Enugu Rangers will host five-time CAF Champions League winners, Zamalek SC on Sunday at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu in the second leg of their Round of 32 fixtures.
In the first leg at the El Salam Military Stadium, Cairo last week, Rangers were defeated 4-1 by the Egyptians which makes the return leg a must-win for the Flying Antelopes.
Coach Imama Amapakabo and his team need to win by, at least, three 'unreplied' goals to reach the money-spinning group stages.
Completesportsnigeria.com's IZUCHUKWU OKOSI, in this piece, examines five reasons why The Flying Antelopes can still qualify ahead of Zamalek.
1. HISTORY OF COMEBACKS INSPIRATION
There have been some 'miraculous' comebacks in club tournaments to suggest that Enugu Rangers can do the almost-impossible and march to the group stages of the 2017 CAF Champions League.
Only last week, Barcelona became the first European side to overturn a massive first leg aggregate defeat (4-0) when they won the second leg of their Round of 16 fixtures of the UEFA Champions League against Paris Saint Germain (PSG).
The Blaugrana have reached the quarterfinals stage of the 2016/2017 UEFA Champions League 6-5 on aggregate after blowing away the Paris Billionaires 6-1 in the second leg.
Rangers themselves defeated Ghazl Al-Mehalla of Egypt 3-0 at the National Stadium, Lagos in their second leg semi-final match of the 1975 CAF Winners Cup thereby overturning a first leg deficit of 3-1 to qualify for the final 4-3 on aggregate.
These results are examples of how teams have reached next stages of competitions and Enugu Rangers are one of the proponents themselves.
2. MASSIVE HOME CROWD IMPACT
Enugu Rangers will be inspired by their fans' massive attendance at The Catedral – Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium Enugu on Sunday.
The Cathedral could be a fortress of some sorts for the Flying Antelopes this weekend and they will need the fans to be behind them cheering from start to finish as they seek to redress the first leg disappointment.
The impact of the crowd on football teams' performance cannot be overstated and that is why the sobriquet '12th player' is relevant in football.
There are a lot of gamesmanship and intimidation at such crucial matches and knowing that the crowd will be in the stands to support them will spur Rangers, thereby putting some measure of pressure and intimidation on the Egyptians.
An early goal by the home side will make it even better.
The trumpets and drums, singing and dancing must go on for 90 minutes (or more) at The Cathedral'. This could be the extra push Rangers need to reach the next round.
3. RANGERS CROSSED A NORTH AFRICAN HURDLE LATELY
After eliminating another north African side, JS Saoura of Algeria in the preliminary stage (0-0 at home, 1-1 away to qualify on the away goals rule), Rangers will be looking to add another Mediterranean scalp to their collection.
North African sides have particularly been too hard to beat over two legs for Nigerian clubs, but Rangers Technical Adviser, Imama Amapakabo and his players can draw encouragement from the results in the previous round.
The words ‘jinxed’, ‘coveted’ and ‘elusive’ were continuously used to describe the failed attempts by Nigerian clubs in winning the African Cup of Champions Clubs, later renamed CAF Champions League or the Confederation Cup, and getting one over their north African rivals will be playing in the minds of Enugu Rangers' players and officials.
The 'Nigerian spirit' is a new way of expressing the never-say-never attitude of an average Nigerian. This spirit, doggedness and belief will be needed to once again escape this north African 'trap' in the Coal city.
To add to this is the fact that Zamalek defeated another Nigerian side, Stationery Stores in the semi finals en route to winning the competition in the 1992/93 season. This will be a good opportunity to stop the Zamalek advantage from becoming a dominance.
4. FAVOURBLE WEATHER CONDITION IN ENUGU ON SUNDAY
There are factors which could help a team win matches – weather is one of them.
Kick-off times could affect teams coming from another geographical zone and Zamalek, like El Merrickh of Sudan (against Rivers United in Port Harcourt), might suffer same fate this weekend.
According to the weather forecast for Sunday in Enugu, it will be 38 degree Centigrade in the afternoon.
The air temperature will warm up to +90+95°F with a dew point of +72°F; ratio of temperature, wind speed and humidity: it will be very humid and quite uncomfortable.
North African countries are predominantly cold due to their proximity to some European countries. Playing the game in the evening in Enugu on Sunday could be advantageous to Zamalek. But playing under a scorching sun could be disadvantageous to the visitors.
5. INELIGIBLE PLAYER INQUEST
Enugu Rangers may have been thrown a lifeline in the form of an inquest by the Confederation of African Football over an alleged use of an ineligible player by Zamalek in the first leg in Cairo.
Rangers, in a petition to the Confederation of African Football, said that Zamalek player Hossam Salama was initially registered as part of the Smouha Club's (another Egyptian side) CAF Confederation Cup squad and should not be allowed to play for Zamalek until the group phase of the Champions League.
If Salama who scored the second goal for the Whites in their 4-1 win over Rangers is found to be ineligible, Zamalek will be disqualified from the tournament, which will see Enugu Rangers progress to the group stage of the competition as they need not worry about the 1-4 deficit suffered in Egypt.
In 2013, Enugu Rangers suffered disqualification from the same tournament for similar reason, when they played an ineligible player in goalkepper Emmanuel Daniel against CSS Sfaxien of Tunisia in the preliminary rounds of the tournament.
CAF have opened investigation into the claims and the outcome of their inquest could be a massive lift to Rangers' CAF Champions League aspiration.
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