With the first legs of the CAF Champions League semi-finals taking place this weekend, Sandals For Goalposts profiles the four clubs in with a chance of claiming Africa’s most prized club gong. We've looked at defending champions Esperance and continental heavyweights Al Ahly. Here, we take at glance at a team very few fancy to win: Sunshine Stars.
Club: Sunshine Stars
The Status Quo
Known as “The Mimiko Boys” (after the Ondo State Governor and main bankroller, Olusegun Mimiko), Sunshine Stars go into this weekend’s African Champions League semi-finals as the only one of the four contenders not to have previously won the competition.
Sunshine Stars’ campaign began in inauspicious circumstances as they had to endure the ignominy of a 4-1 defeat to Angolan side Recreativo de Libolo, but they thrillingly fought back with a 3-0 win at home to progress to the second round. Worse was to follow in the second round as they were trapped in renewed crossfire between rebels and government forces in Malian capital Bamako after a 1-1 draw Djoliba. Sunshine Stars players and officials were forced to say their ‘last prayers’. They managed to come through the ordeal and a 1-0 win in the return leg ensured their progress to the CL group stages for the first time.
A dispirited 2-0 defeat at home to defending champions Esperance in their opening group fixture raised ominous alarm of how they would cope for the rest of the tournament, but they have fought back with some valiant performances – they showed commendable solidity to draw away to Etoile du Sahel following the defeat to Esperance, and then recorded an impressive double over Algerians ASO Chlef, where they were pelted with missiles in the away fixture by angry Chlef fans.
The Mimiko Boys play a 4-5-1 formation where the focus is on defence. Centre-backs Godfrey Oboabona and Alaba Osawe are athletic and intransigent, whilst goalkeeper Moses Ocheje has arguably been the best keeper in the competition. Despite having a playmaker in Cameroonian Tamen Medrano, Sunshine Stars struggle to control games and take the game to the opposition therefore they prefer to absorb pressure before hitting teams on the counter-attack. Most of the attacking moves come down the flanks, relying on the trickery of Izu Azuka and Ibrahim Ajani and the power of Dele Olundare.
The chaotic Izu Azuka, who has notched five goals during the competition, has impressed so much that defending champions Esperance have acquired his services to replace the FC Sion-bound Yannick N’Djeng. Azuka gave the aerially dominant Esperance defenders, Walid Hicheri and Mohamed Ben Mansour, a run around in their final group fixture, drawing several fouls with the ball at his feet, so it came as no surprise when they came calling for his services.
One to watch
Skipper Godfrey Oboabona, who misses the first leg after having accumulated too many yellows, has been outstanding in defence. Equally comfortable as a centre back and as a right back, his performances have won wide plaudits and have made him a regular in Stephen Keshi’s Nigerian national team.
With Al Ahly’s away record far from impressive, Sunshine Stars have a plausible chance of causing a shock. They’re not entire strangers to the big stage – they did reach the CAF Confederations Cup semi-finals last year. All they need is belief, then. Alas, SFG predicts Al Ahly will narrowly come out on top.