Mouhcine Iajour and Raja Cassablanca will provide the sternest tests yet for two-time African champions Enyimba FC of Aba in this year’s CAF Confederation Cup.
Enyimba’s run to the semi-final of this year’s competition has had its ups and downs but the People’s Elephant have surmounted every challenge – ranging from a poor goals return to a palpable away form and the loss of both the coach and captain at different times for different reasons – but how they cope with the latest problem, in the form of a tough customer to Nigerian teams will go a long way in determining how genuine their chances of winning the tournament for the first time is.
Under Usman Abdallah, Enyimba have been stingy at the back and somehow blunt in front of goal until the events of the past one week which has seen them score twelve goals in four games, heralded by a 5-1 blitz against Rwandan side Rayon Sports in their quarter final second leg game in Aba and culminating in a 5-0 hammering of Nigerian second division side Julius Atete FC in their AITEO Cup final group game in Gombe.
While Enyimba were the bookmakers’ overwhelming favourites when the quarter final draws were released, the same cannot be said of their semi-final engagement against Raja, with the first leg billed for this Wednesday at the Enyimba International Stadium.
Not only will the 2003 and 2004 Champions League winners square up with a core of the Moroccan side which humiliated Nigeria in the final of the 2018 African Nations Championship in February, they have a special guest in Moussine Iajour – a veteran striker who has scored against virtually all the Nigerian sides he has come up against with the Aba side the only exception.
Raja Casablanca are one of the highest scoring sides in this season’s Confederation Cup and they boast of an imperious focal combination in Iajour and the 22-year old sensation Mahmoud Benhalib. Both players have combined for a total of eighteen (18) goals in this year’s competition, with Benhalib the tournament’s top scorer so far with eleven goals. Enyimba must be ready.
Iajour who is in his third stint at his boyhood club is 33 already and has been familiar with Nigerian opposition right from his teens when he featured in a very talented Moroccan Under-20 side against Nigeria’s Flying Eagles (twice) in 2005. Incidentally, Nigeria beat Morocco at the semi-final stage of both the African Youth Championship (AYC) in Benin and World Youth Championship (WYC) in Holland with Iajour grabbing the headlines in both games.
In Cotonou, Iajour scored both goals for Morocco who were poised to win at extra time before a former Enyimba forward Obinna Nsofor produced a late solo effort to force penalties which the Nigerians won. Few months later in Kerkrade, Iajour was again on the losing side and received a sending off for his frustration as Nigeria cruised to a 3-0 victory.
Fast forward to 2014 when he scored for Morocco’s Atlas Lions in a quarter final game of the African Nations Championship against Nigeria in South Africa, once again, the Nigerian side made a dramatic comeback from 3-0 down to win in extra time. His next Nigerian opponent would not be that lucky.
Nigerian champions Kano Pillars faced Moghreb Tetouan of Morocco in the second round of the 2015 CAF Champions League. Tetouan had signed Iajour on a season-long deal and he put all the fury from his previous failures against Nigerian sides on Kano Pillars. He netted a hat trick in Morocco before adding one in Kano as Pillars bowed out 5-2 on aggregate.
— Raja Casablanca EN/NL ? (@RCA_NL) May 23, 2018
Fast, good in the air and with an incredible sense of positioning inside the penalty area, Iajour has been terrifying teams in the African continent since his emergence in 2005. One team which have proved a tough nut for him to crack however has been Enyimba, a side he is yet to score against in four meetings.
He was in the Raja Casablanca side which lost 2-0 to Enyimba in Aba at the group stage of the 2005 Champions League (Uche Kalu and Chidozie Johnson with Enyimba’s goals) and was also involved in Raja’s 1-0 win in Casablanca in the reverse fixture.
After switching to city rivals Wydad, Iajour was again an opponent to Enyimba when both sides met in the semifinal of the 2011 Champions League. Enyimba were able to keep the forward quiet in both legs of their meeting but eventually lost the tie 1-0 in aggregate.
Iajour will hope to be third time lucky on his visit to Aba and Enyimba must be ready to deal with the crafty forward and the host of others that Raja manager Juan Carlos Garrido would throw at them should they aspire to reach next month’s final.