Enyimba beat Etoile du Sahel 7-6, qualify for group stage

Enyimba Football Club line up before a match.

Enyimba Football Team line up before a match.

Goalkeeper Theophilus Afelokhai was the hero yesterday in Sousse. When everything seemed lost, the former Kano Pillars’ number one shot-stopper saved two penalties to keep Enyimba of Aba in the hunt for a first CAF Champions League group stage ticket since 2011.

The game ended seven to six goals for Enyimba after a marathon penalty shoot that saw the Aba team coming from two missed penalties to edge out Etoile du Sahel in front of their vociferous fans. The ‘Peoples Elephant’ owe their survival to Afelokhai, who ensured that remained in the game by saving two penalty kicks out of the five taken by the Tunisians before the sudden death.

Enyimba lost their first two kicks with the Tunisian substitute goalkeeper, Jebali, saving the tame shots. But once Afelokhai saved the Tunisians last kick, the pressure swung to Etoile.

Enyimba would have won the game after the Tunisians lost their first sudden death penalty, but Skipper Chinedu Udoji ballooned his kick over the bar. Enyimba scored their seventh kick, after the impressive Afelokhai had saved the Tunisians’ shot to zoom into the group stage of the competition.

Perhaps, there would not have been any need for a penalty shoot out had Mfon Udoh scored when he found himself one-on-one with Jebali in the dying moments of the game.

Yesterday’s victory was a re-enactment of a similar win 12 years ago when Enyimba retained the Champions League by edging past the Tunisians on penalties after aggregate scores stood at 3-3.

Enyimba won the first leg 3-0 in Port Harcourt, but their defensive tactics in Sousse last night nearly cost them the tie.

The seven-time Nigeria champions held out until the 42nd minute, when a well-taken free kick by Hamza Lahmar flew over the defensive wall and beyond the impressive goalkeeper Afelokhai.

The Tunisians got their second goal in the 62nd minute, when the Brazilian Diogo Acosta headed home from close range.

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