Enyimba left it late to register an important 1-0 victory over Orlando Pirates in the last Group A game of the Caf Confederation Cup at the Enyimba International Stadium on Wednesday night.
The two teams finished tied on nine points, but the Nigerians top Group A because of the away goal they scored in Orlando, while the Buccaneers finished in second place.
This was Pirates’ first loss in the group phase, and it will certainly not sit well with coach Josef Zinnbauer, who looked disappointed after the game.
However, with Algeria’s ES Setif beating Al Ahly Bhengazi of Libya in the other final Group A match, Pirates do make it into the quarterfinal draw, which takes place on Friday.
As anticipated, it was end-to-end stuff at the Enyimba Stadium in Aba, as both Bucs and Enyimba looked for an opening goal.
Vincent Pule was first to try his luck at Enyimba keeper John Noble in the third minute, but his shot didn’t trouble the shot-stopper.
Six minutes later, a header from Enyimba’s Olisema Chinedu went over Wayne Sandilands’ crossbar.
Pule was unlucky not to have gave Bucs the lead in the 13th minute with a well struck free-kick, his effort coming back off the the bar.
In the 20th minute, Chinedu played a dangerous floating ball inside Bucs box, but the Pirates’ Sandilands was able to clear the danger away.
With captain Augustine Oladapo out due to suspension, the Nigerians had to rely on key player Iwuala Anayo to produce some magic for them.
The midfielder almost caught Pirates napping in the 38th minute. Bucs skipper for the night Ntsikelelo Nyauza ended up fouling the attacker, who was through on goal and the Pirates defender received a yellow card. The teams went into half-time goalless.
In the second half, the opening minutes weren’t as full of action the first stanza. Pirates were happy to keep the ball, while the Ava Warriors were growing impatiently in their quest for the opener.
Anayo got an opportunity to find the back of the net for the home side after a lobbed ball found him inside the Pirates box, but his shot went wide in the 65th minute.
Enyimba kept on pushing hard to try and unlock the Bucs rearguard, but the Soweto giants remained solid at the back.
Bucs continued to manage the game and they almost got a chance at goal through striker Tshegofatso Mabasa with only about 11 minutes left of regular time remaining – the striker was clipped inside the Enyimba box, but the referee waved play on while Mabasa shouted for a penalty.
In the last minutes of normal time, Enyimba thought they have for the all important goal, but Abraham Omoyele was ruled offside.
In stoppage time, however, Sandilands was finally beaten by Chinedu from close range, to hand the home side a win and qualification for the knockout stages.