Theophilus Afelokhai: Enyimba will take back pound of flesh from Raja Casablanca

Weekly Trust - - Cover Interview - Enyimba FC goal­keeper, Theophilus Afelokhai is op­ti­mistic that his team will turn the ta­ble against Raja Casablanca in the re­turn leg of the CAF Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup semi-fi­nal. The for­mer Kano Pil­lars cap­tain said the 0-1 loss to Raja in Aba in the first le

How dis­ap­pointed are you by the per­for­mance of Enyimba in the 0-1 de­feat against Raja Casablanca of Morocco? To be hon­est with you, I am highly dis­ap­pointed be­cause we didn’t get the re­sult we worked for. We wanted to get a good re­sult that will take off the pres­sure on us go­ing into the re­turn leg. So we all are feel­ing so dis­ap­pointed. Well in foot­ball things like this hap­pen. How­ever, many peo­ple don’t know what we are pass­ing through in Enyimba.

No, no how can any­one say that about Enyimba? It is not pos­si­ble. We only suf­fered a tem­po­rary set­back. Some­thing like this hap­pened to me when I was with Kano Pil­lars. This club from Egypt, Al Ahly came and played 1-1 with us in Kano and every­body said it was over for us. I was the cap­tain of Kano Pil­lars so I spoke to my team mates that it was not over. In the end, we made it against the highly rated Al Ahly. Let me tell you some­thing. If Raja can beat us in Nige­ria, we can also beat them in Morocco. It is not over un­til it is all over. They had a good day in Nige­ria. It may be our turn in Morocco. I want you to know that luck plays a big role in foot­ball. We were un­lucky against Raja.

Thank you for this ques­tion. Now I am not talk­ing about Enyimba alone. I am talk­ing to all Nige­rian clubs. If they have this op­por­tu­nity that Enyimba are hav­ing now, they must han­dle it with care and ut­most se­ri­ous­ness. We have played too many matches re­cently and most of the play­ers are tired. There is too much fa­tigue. It may in­ter­est you to know that when we re­turned from Ki­gali where we played against Rayon Sports, we went straight to Nnewi for our Ai­teo Cup fix­ture. Af­ter the match, we again trav­elled by road back to Aba to play the re­turn leg against Rayon Sports. The fol­low­ing day, we trav­elled by road to Gombe for Ai­teo Cup group matches. As a mat­ter of fact, be­fore we reached Gombe, we had to sleep in Jos. In Gombe, we played three straight matches against very tough op­po­nents. We again left Gombe by road to Aba to hon­our our semi-fi­nal match with Raja Casablanca. We ar­rived Aba two days to the match. Mean­while, our op­po­nents flew into Nige­ria in a char­tered plane. They had enough rest be­fore they faced us on Wed­nes­day. Now how do you ex­pect us to per­form mir­a­cles? Let us tell our­selves the truth, foot­ball is not run this way. Raja Casablanca is not an or­di­nary club. They know what they want. Peo­ple who pre­pare well get what they want. We have come this far by the grace of God. How­ever, you can­not over stretch your luck. I don’t think it was all about pres­sure. Most of us in Enyimba have con­ti­nen­tal ex­pe­ri­ence. We are used to dif­fer­ent types of pres­sure. Truth be told, we were tired. We forced our­selves but the fa­tigue was much. We had a penalty but we missed, that was as a re­sult of men­tal ex­haus­tion. We tried to push but noth­ing was mov­ing. As a mat­ter of fact, my in­jury was caused by fa­tigue.

Enyimba have an­other chance against Raja Casablanca later this month. How much sup­port do you need to sur­mount the hur­dle?

Enyimba need more mo­ti­va­tion. Imag­ine early this morn­ing (Thurs­day), the team trav­elled by road to Gombe to face Kano Pil­lars in the Ai­teo Cup quar­ter-fi­nal. Mean­while, Pil­lars are al­ready on ground. Look at teams that are not even in the con­ti­nent are fly­ing to play away matches. Clubs like Akwa United and Rangers of Enugu flew into Kano to hon­our their Ai­teo Cup fix­ture. They sup­pose to fly th­ese boys to Gombe for them to rest well be­fore their match against Kano Pil­lars. Un­for­tu­nately, they left this morn­ing by road. Enyimba need to bring out money to mo­ti­vate the play­ers. Sin­cere prom­ises should be made to boost the play­ers’ morale. It is rather un­for­tu­nate that even the NFF didn’t help mat­ters. In the midst of tough con­ti­nen­tal chal­lenges, we are still fac­ing con­gested fix­tures in Ai­teo Cup. One thing I know is that we are de­ter­mined to reach the fi­nal of the Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup. I am also hop­ing to re­cover in time for the re­turn leg. If I am picked to keep and I get the nec­es­sary sup­port from my de­fend­ers, I will do ev­ery­thing to help take Enyimba to the fi­nal.

I also heard it and I was truly hum­bled by his show of con­cern for me. Maybe a prophet is lack­ing hon­our in his coun­try. Well, the truth of the mat­ter is that whether I am in the na­tional team or not, to­day I am happy be­cause peo­ple are speak­ing for me. I want to keep do­ing my best for those who are speak­ing for me. God’s time is the best so I won’t rest on my oars.

My mes­sage to our fans is that they should be­lieve in us. They have to sup­port us for with­out them we can’t do any­thing. All hope is not lost. If Raja can beat us here, our fans should be­lieve that we also can go to Morocco and beat our op­po­nents. They should con­tinue to pray for us. Any­thing can hap­pen in foot­ball.

Min­is­ter of sports, Bar­ris­ter Solomon Dalung

Theophilus Afelokhai

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