From August 2023, four clubs will fly Nigeria’s flag in the 2023/24 Confederation of Africa (CAF) club tournaments, the Champions League and Confederation Cup as the country bids to return to the summit of African football.
It was a long tortuous journey for the clubs after going through the hassles of playing three to four games in a week in the just concluded abridged Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season.
At the end of the league, the first three teams from Group A and Group B qualified for the Super 6 playoff which was to determine the league winners as well as the clubs that will be representing Nigeria on the continent.
The clubs, Enyimba, Remo Stars, Rivers United, Sunshine Stars, Bendel Insurance and Lobi Stars converged in Lagos to battle for the two Champions League and one Confederation Cup slots.
At the end of hostilities, Enyimba and Remo Stars picked the Champions League tickets while Rivers United picked the Confederation Cup ticket with the second picked by the eventual Federation Cup winners, Bendel Insurance.
Trust Sports highlights the journey these clubs had to go through to have the chance to represent Nigeria in CAF club competitions.
Enyimba International FC emerged champions of the 2022/2023 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) after winning the Super-Six playoffs with a 1-1 draw against defending Rivers United FC, making them the nineth time winner of the league.
But this victory didn’t come on a platter of gold for the Aba Warriors in Lagos as they had to dig in their boots to eventually win the league.
The Finidi George-led side won the league on superior goal difference after tying on nine points with Rivers and Remo Stars but their road to victory began from the abridged league where they had finished third in Group A with 32 points after winning 9, losing 4 and drawing 5 games. Enyimba ended the league scoring 25 goals while conceding 12 and earn a goal difference of 13.
Their success in the league qualified them to be play in the Super 6 play off where they played 5 games winning 2, drawing 3 and losing none to earn 9 points. They scored 8 goals and conceded 4 to finish with a goal difference of 4.
In the final game, Enyimba drew first blood in the 39th minute as Ekene Awazie dispatched a well-taken strike. Rivers responded immediately after the halftime break, with Nyima Nwagua stabbing the ball into the net after a goal line scuffle.
The Peoples Elephant held on for a famous draw that extended their achievement as the most successful club in the Nigerian league.
The Ikenne-based club had finished second in Group A with 33 points. The Sky-Blues won 9, drew 6 and lost 3 in the abridged league. The team scored 21 goals while conceding 14 goals with a goal difference of 7 goals.
They moved to Lagos to bid for the title where they played 5 games and, in the process, won 2, drew 3 and lost none. They scored 8 goals, conceded 5 to end the Super 6 with a goal difference of 3 goals.
Remo Stars picked up a historic 1-0 win over their long-time rival and nemesis, Bendel Insurance in their final NPFL23 Super Six game at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena in Lagos to claim a first-ever ticket to the CAF Champions League.
The Benin Arsenal secured a win and a draw against the Sky Blue Stars during the regular season and had never lost to them in their history but that changed when midfielder Akanni Qudus scored the game’s only goal in the 36th minute.
The 2021/22 NPFL champions finished first in Group B with 34 points winning 9, drawing 7 and losing 2 games in the process. The Pride of Rivers scored 24 goals but conceded 15 to have a goal difference of 9. During the Super 6, the won w, drew 3 and lost none to finish with 9 points while scoring 6 goals and conceding 4 to have a goal difference of 2 goals.
History have it that only two clubs, Enyimba and Kano Pillars have defended their league titles in the last 22 years. While Enyimba completed a three-peat between 2001 and 2003, Kano Pillars did the same a decade later and as such Rivers United was aiming to join the list.
The Stanley Eguma’s led boys have defended the title so well, even to the extent of halting the 21-game unbeaten record of Bendel Insurance but they had to defeat Enyimba who only needed a draw to dethrone them which they did to win the league.
The Benin Arsenal ended the abridged league unbeaten and finished top of Group A. Hopes were high that they could win the Super 6 but they failed to a large extent to live up to billing.
The Edo-based club won 8, drew 10 to earn 34 points while scoring 22 goals while conceding 11 to earn a goal difference of 11 goals. At the Super 6, they finished 5th without winning a single game while drawing 2, losing 2 with just three points to show for their efforts.
Their season could have ended on poor note if they had not reached the finals of the 2023 Federation Cup.
With the realization the league was lost, their hopes of a continental campaign rested on winning the Nigeria’s oldest cup competition which they won by a lone goal against Enugu Rangers to pick the second CAF Confederation Cup ticket while returning to the competition for the first time since 2005. They end a fairytale season with a piece of silverware, remarkable for a newly-promoted team.
Nigerian clubs have a long-standing tradition of excellence in CAF competitions, having won the CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup multiple times.
Enyimba, in particular, has been incredibly successful in the Champions League, winning the tournament in 2003 and 2004 and will the chance to rewrite their name in history again.
With the upcoming CAF competitions, fans are excited to see how these clubs will perform and represent Nigeria on the continental stage.