Enyimba set for sternest test yet vs. Raja Casablanca
Enyimba's bid for a first CAF Confederation Cup will be severely tested on Wednesday when the People's Elephant host Raja Casablanca of Morocco in the first leg of their semi final at the Enyimba International Stadium in Aba.
The two-time CAF Champions League winners will be aware that a positive result at home is imperative ahead of the ominous second leg in Casablanca, and they'll rely on their never-say-die attitude and mental strength to progress.
These qualities have been seen in abundance during the continental campaign to date, even if a number of challenges have threatened to sabotage their continued progression.
In recent months, Enyimba have had to deal with coach Paul Aigbogun unceremoniously parting ways with the club, injuries to key players, and a poor playing surface at the UJ Esuene Stadium in Calabar, which hindered their playing style before they relocated to their traditional home.
Added to the aforementioned setbacks, the team have been left to prepare for the matches since matchday three - against Williamsville - without a functioning league, following the NPFL's pause and subsequent premature conclusion.
Speaking ahead of the game, coach Usman Abdallah acknowledged Enyimba have a tough task ahead of them..
"Raja are a top side in Africa and they have a rich continental history and experience," he told Punch. "They play good and compact football but we are not scared of playing them.
"North African sides are always tough for West African teams because most of their players have played together for a longer time, and most of them find their way into their national teams - so they give their opponents a tough time.
"We will play our game and get the result we need at home."
The seven-time Nigeria champions were outstanding in the last game, as they hit five goals past Rayon Sports of Rwanda, but Enyimba would surely need to play out of their skins to achieve anything close to that against Raja.
The Moroccans have lost just once on the road - a 2-0 defeat at AS Vita Club - in this season's competition.
In six away matches, they have recorded a total of four away victories, with their latest conquest coming against CARA Brazzaville of Congo in the first leg of their quarter final.
Added to their eye-catching record, they boast the competition's top goalscorer, Mahmoud Benhalib, who's netted 11 goals so far this campaign.
The 22-year-old's form alone should be giving the Enyimba backline sleepless nights, even before considering his veteran strike partner Mouhcine Iajour.
The Morocco international, who is in his third spell at the club, has netted six times in this season's Confederation Cup, and has been a familiar foe to Nigerian teams since scoring twice against the Flying Eagles at the 2005 African Youth Championship.
If there's one player in the Enyimba XI who has first-hand experience of Iajour's devastating goalscoring prowess it's goalkeeper Theophilus Afelokhai.
The stopper was helpless as the 33-year-old was solely responsible for the elimination of Kano Pillars in the first round of the 2015 CAF Champions League whilst representing Moghreb Tetouan, scoring four goals in an eventual 5-2 aggregate win.
In this first leg, surely Afelokhai - and the two centre-backs Isiaka Oladuntoye and Ifeanyi Anaemena - will be central to any potential Enyimba success.
If this trio can keep Raja's attacking unit at bay, and if the vocal home supports can spur their heroes on, then the People's Elephant could well stand a chance of progression heading into the return fixture on October 24.