The skills of goalkeeper Theophilus Afelokhai is one reason Enyimba of Nigeria are expected to reach the CAF Confederation Cup semi-finals this Sunday by ousting Rayon Sports of Rwanda.
The 28-year-old has kept three consecutive clean sheets in the second-tier African club competition, including a 0-0 quarter-finals first leg draw at Rayon last weekend.
That result tipped the balance toward Enyimba in the two-leg tie, as they will enjoy the passionate support of a capacity 15,000 crowd in southeastern city Aba this Sunday. Afelokhai made a string of acrobatic saves in Rwanda to demonstrate why he is first choice ahead of Ikechukwu Ezenwa, who was part of the Nigeria 2018 World Cup squad in Russia.
“I am thrilled by my run of Confederation Cup clean sheets,” said Afelokhai ahead of the return match. “It is not easy to go 90 minutes without conceding a goal. “My dream is to be part of history by helping Enyimba become the first Nigerian winners of the Confederation Cup.”
Below, AFP Sport previews the second legs in the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League with Enyimba among three former African champions set to reach the penultimate stage.
Enyimba v Rayon
Enyimba are virtually invincible at home in the competition this year, winning four matches and drawing the other, scoring seven goals and conceding two before Afelokhai took over.
If the two-time CAF Champions League winners have a weakness, it is the lack of a goalmouth predator with leading scorers Ibrahim Mustapha and Chinonso Okonkwo managing just two each. Rayon were unbeaten on the road in the group phase, but Brazilian coach ‘Robertinho’ must do without suspended full-back Eric Rutanga and unavailable midfielder Yannick Mukunzi.
Raja v CARA
Any result other than a home victory for three-time African champions Raja Casablanca of Morocco would be a shock after they triumphed 2-1 away to CARA of Congo Brazzaville.
Raja could afford the luxury of keeping 11-goal Confederation Cup-leading scorer Mahmoud Benhalib on the bench for an hour in central Africa before he came on to grab the winner.