Enyimba and Rivers United are owned and bankrolled by Abia and Rivers states respectively; two states separated by the Imo River but with a rich history of footballing success at the club level in Nigeria and Africa.
The stakes are suddenly high once again when two teams involved in most of the post-Covid continental tussle in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) come toe-to-toe as the league hits its proper home straight starting from this weekend.
These two clubs made the Points Per Game (PPG) phenomenon trend on the African continent for weeks and months in 2020 after the league was called off, occasioned by an outbreak of the dreaded Coronavirus in major parts of the world, Nigeria not excluded.
After weeks of persistent media shenanigans, the decision of the league body (to send Enyimba to the Champions League and Rivers United to the Confederation Cup) was upheld and both teams went about their respective competitions.
As fate would have it however, both teams were drawn against each other again on the continental stage and there was barely anything to separate them for the umpteenth time, each team winning their home leg of the CAF Confederation Cup playoff round 1-0 but Enyimba had the last laugh in a dramatic penalty shootout in Port Harcourt.
For the fourth time this season, Enyimba and Rivers United meet on the pitch this Sunday in a game that could have ramifications on both sides’ final placements on the 2020/2021 league log.
Against all odds, Enyimba continued their recent poor form at home when they were held 1-1 by Warri Wolves in Aba on Wednesday while Rivers United dismissed Plateau United 3-1 in Port Harcourt with some real swagger. Those two results now mean that United are in fourth, one place and one point above Enyimba.
The top three teams may have some tricky fixtures to negotiate in Sunday’s Match Day 31 outing but this clash between the 4th and 5th placed sides, scheduled for the antediluvian Enyimba International Stadium, Aba will certainly be the cynosure of all eyes.
Rivers United are handled by the longest serving coach in the league, Stanley Eguma who was an assistant coach at Enyimba during their years of dominating Africa in the mid-2000s. Eguma sadly does not have the best of record in Aba as he has hardly won a game there in the past ten years.
With all three meetings between both sides this season ending 1-0 in favour of the home teams, fingers point to another low scoring affair but Eguma hopes that his wards will give a good account of themselves.
“It’s a big game and you know they’re a rival opponent. Enyimba vs Rivers United any day, any time is a cracker and it’s a game between teams that know each other very well.
“Both teams are close to each other on the log, we are fighting for the same thing so it will be interesting. Apart from that, pride is at stake as well, not only the three points, pride is at stake and we hope that we’re going to give a good account of ourselves in Aba,” Eguma told www.aclsports.com
It is Enyimba vs Rivers United again on Sunday in #NPFL21 as we enter the final lap (last 8 matches of the season).— Fisayo Dairo (@FisayoDairo) July 3, 2021
Enyimba are 5th, one point behind 4th placed Rivers United so there's plenty to play for in Aba.
Preview coming up shortly via @acl_sports. #ENYRIV https://t.co/z5m8mOnHpI
For two sides that have enjoyed varying degrees of success, at least in the minimum for the past two decades, this season’s trophy seem a bit far fetched due to their inconsistencies but mathematically, both sides have good chance of catching up with leaders Akwa United.
After Match Day 30 and with eight matches left, Rivers United are five points behind the pace setters Akwa while Enyimba are six points adrift but with a “winnable” game in hand and with their next league game after Sunday’s Aba duel away to Akwa United.
Still smarting from the dropped points at home to Warri Wolves, Enyimba’s versatile defender Stephen Manyo Egbe captured their disbelief to www.npfl.ng and also states his side’s motivation ahead of Sunday’s game.
“The result in our last game was a shock to us. We never believed we would have that kind of result at home but we are still keeping our heads high and hoping to get the best out of this game against Rivers United.
“It’s not going to be an easy game, they are our rivals and are also looking up to carrying the league trophy too so they’re going to be a hard nut to crack but I believe strongly in our team that we are going to come out victorious with the three points.
“The three points are very important to us because we are going to move a step closer to (league leaders) Akwa United so we are going to put in all our best to get it right this time around,” said Manyo who plays at right back and centre back for the People’s Elephant.
Both teams will be without some key actors for this Match Day 31 encounter. Nigeria’s Super Eagles, made up of predominantly home based players are currently in the United States where they will face Mexico in an international friendly on Sunday, a development which has seen both sides shorn of top stars.
Hosts Enyimba, coached by Fatai Osho will be without their talismanic winger Anayo Iwuala, left back Imo Obot and goalkeeper John Noble who are all with the Super Eagles while centre backs Timothy Danladi and Somiari Alalibo are both out due to injury.
Rivers United will also be without their striker Sunday Adetunji who once played for Enyimba and right back Enyinnaya Kazie whose brother Izundu Njoku is Enyimba’s reserve goalkeeper. United however have former Enyimba goalkeeper Theophilus Afelokhai back for the trip while Ifeanyi Anaemena is also in the frame for a return after two months of absence.
Match Day 31 Fixtures
Adamawa Utd Vs MFM FC
Enyimba FC Vs Rivers Utd
Heartland FC Vs Sunshine Stars
Kano Pillars Vs Lobi Stars
Katsina Utd Vs Ifeanyi Ubah
Kwara Utd Vs Rangers Int’l
Plateau Utd Vs Akwa Utd
Nasarawa Utd Vs Jigawa GS
Warri Wolves Vs Abia Warriors
Wikki Tourists Vs Dakkada FC