Nasarawa United and Bayelsa United will battle to have their names engraved for the first time on Nigeria’s oldest cup competition the Aiteo Cup on Sunday at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin City.
Aclsports.com‘s Chief Football Writer Fisayo Dairo previews the final from Benin City
This season’s competition has been quite a storied one which is complete with all the exquisite ingredients for the making of a vintage Cup competition. The top guns have put in commendable fight to land the big prize while the supposed underdogs have refused to remain underneath.
Nasarawa out to end a great season in style
2016 Federation Cup beaten finalists Nasarawa United have had an amazing run in the second stanza of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season and have translated same into the Cup competition where they will now hope to win their first major silverware since they were formed in 2003.
The Solid Miners dispatched their first three opponents in this year’s Cup competition with relative ease in regulation time before a nerve-wracking penalty shootout win over Sunshine Stars in last Friday’s semi-final clash at the Delta State Polytechnic, Ozoro.
In-form striker Silas Nwankwo, who is the top division’s topscorer has weighed in with a fair share of goals in Nasarawa’s run to the final, ably supported by right back Chigozie Obasi’s dead ball deliveries which have been a menace to opposing defence.
Centre back Tebo Franklin has remained a solid rock at the rear as well but in all, the cohesion of the team, under head coach Bala Nikyu has been Nasarawa United’s biggest selling point in the campaign to this point with his well drilled 442 formation providing an uncompromising balance between defence and attack.
Second division Bayelsa United going for the records
Standing between Nasarawa and their first ever trophy however are Nigeria National League (NNL) side Bayelsa United, bidding to become the first team from Nigeria’s second division to win the Cup competition in twenty years, a feat last achieved by their South-South rivals Dolphins (now Rivers United) in 2001.
Bayelsa’s run to the Aiteo Cup final has been nothing short of phenomenal. Team’s head coach Diepreye Teibowei is nicknamed Computer and his team have produced some electric performances en route to their first ever Cup final, outclassing former champions Rangers and Lobi Stars in the process.
Three of Bayelsa’s four knockout opponents in this campaign were teams in Nigeria’s top division and it is quite instructive that Bayelsa United eliminated all three in regulation time without conceding any goal in the process, including a semi-final win over Rivers United, coached by 2001 winning coach Stanley Eguma.
While James Emo and Inikurogha Okardi (cousin to former Flying Eagles star Blessing) have supplied breath-taking goals to aid Bayelsa’s progress, Endurance Ebedebiri and Gabriel Biriduba have formed an impregnable layer in defence for an equally outstanding goalkeeper John Shaibu.
Just coming off a successful hosting of Nigeria’s National Sports Festival (NSF), it is only appropriate that the newly reconstructed Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin is the stage on which one of these two teams will etch their names among the greatest teams in Nigerian football history.
The Ogbe Stadium, as popularly called among locals now boasts of a 20,000 capacity all covered seats and is the only stadium in Nigeria equipped with the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology among other state-of-the-art facilities.
The final match kicks off at 6:30pm Nigerian time, after the Women’s final between Bayelsa Queens and FC Robo Queens would have been decided.
ROAD TO THE FINAL
Prelim – Bayelsa United 1-0 Nigeria Air Force (NAF)
Round of 32 – Rangers 0-1 Bayelsa United
Round of 16 – Bayelsa United 2-0 Lobi Stars
Quarter-final – Bayelsa United 1-1 Gateway FC (5-4 on PKs)
Semi-final – Bayelsa United 1-0 Rivers United
Round of 32 – Bendel Insurance 1-3 Nasarawa United
Round of 16 – Plateau United 1-3 Nasarawa United
Quarter-final – Nasarawa United 1-0 Gombe United
Semi-final – Sunshine Stars 2-2 Nasarawa United (5-6 on PKs)
Bayelsa United vs Nasarawa United