Night of shame for Pil­lars, Eny­imba as NPFL gi­ants fail big tests

Weekly Trust - - Trust Sports - David Ngobua

Wed­nes­day, Oc­to­ber 24 will go down in his­tory as a sad day for sup­port­ers of Kano Pil­lars and Rangers af­ter the Nige­ria Pro­fes­sional Foot­ball League gi­ants suf­fered de­feats that left bit­ter tastes in the mouth of their teem­ing fans.

On a night that they were ex­pected to bring joy to the hearts of their fans, the two clubs of­fered only dis­ap­point­ments as they failed to scale the hur­dles to reach the Promised Land in their re­spec­tive com­pe­ti­tions.

While Kano Pil­lars threw away a three goal lead in the fi­nal of this year’s Ai­teo Cup to lose 4-2 on penal­ties to Enugu Rangers at the Late Stephen Keshi Sta­dium As­aba, Eny­imba in far away Casablanca failed 2-1 at Raja in the re­turn leg of the CAF Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup semi-fi­nal.

Kano Pil­lars in the hunt for their first ever Fed­er­a­tion Cup vic­tory re­ally raised the hopes of their dar­ling fans with con­vinc­ing dis­plays be­fore the dis­as­ter that struck late in the match to break the hearts of their ever vo­cif­er­ous fans.

The ‘Masu gida’ boys slid through the ‘Fly­ing an­telopes’ de­fence like hot knife in but­ter as their in­spi­ra­tional cap­tain Rabiu Ali ben­e­fit­ted from big man Ny­ima Nwagua’s great work down the left side of Rangers goal area to score Pil­lars open­ing goal in the fifth minute of the 2018 Ai­teo Cup fi­nal.

In what was clearly a one way traf­fic af­fair, Fly­ing Ea­gles player, Ibrahim Al­has­san dou­bled Pil­lars lead straight from corner kick in the 20th minute be­fore Nwagua made it three for Pil­lars three min­utes into the sec­ond half of the match.

At this point, it looked like Pil­lars were cruis­ing to a his­toric win in the Fed­er­a­tion Cup but Rangers gaffer Gbenga Ogun­bote had other plans as he made two sig­nif­i­cant changes that brought im­me­di­ate re­sults.

The for­mer Sun­shine Stars and Eny­imba coach brought on Kelvin Itoya for Emeka Madu and Ghana­ian goal­keeper, Nana Bonsu for fum­bling Femi Thomas. It was su­per sub, Itoya who started the re­vival for Rangers with only 13 min­utes left to play.

His stun­ner in the 77th minute was like a cat set among the pi­geons as panic and con­fu­sion im­me­di­ately en­veloped Pil­lars. In quick suc­ces­sions, Pil­lars lost their two key de­fend­ers, Em­manuel Anyanwu and Ifeanyi Nweke to in­juries.

Five min­utes af­ter Itoya’s ‘mis­sile’ ig­nited the his­toric come-back, Chidera Ezeh made it two for Rangers be­fore an­other sub­sti­tute, Ibrahim Ajani com­pletely broke the hearts of Pil­lars fans with a div­ing header in the first minute of the eight min­utes added time.

In the re­sul­tant penalty shoot-out, cap­tain fan­tas­tic, Ali turned vil­lain as he was the first to miss from the spot for Pil­lars. It ended 4-2 in favour of Rangers who went into the ‘game of lottery’ with greater mea­sure of con­fi­dence.

While Pil­lars are left to rue an­other missed chance to win their first Fed­er­a­tion Cup, Rangers who last won the tro­phy in 1983 are still cel­e­brat­ing their Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup ticket and N25 mil­lion cash prize from the Nige­ria Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion.

For many, the vic­tory of Rangers over Pil­lars didn’t come as a sur­prise be­cause the ‘fly­ing an­telopes’ had won their semi-fi­nal match in sim­i­lar fash­ion. They came back from two goals down to beat Nasarawa United 4-2 to reach the fi­nal.

Mean­while, Pil­lars had sur­ren­dered their two goals lead in the first half against Katsina United but man­aged to win 4-1 on penal­ties to reach their sec­ond ever Fed­er­a­tion Cup fi­nal.

Con­se­quently, even when they shot into the lead against Rangers, many were not so con­fi­dent that they would hold unto it to clinch the cov­eted tro­phy. As feared, they failed to ride the mo­men­tum to the end.

The Tech­ni­cal Ad­viser of Pil­lars, Ibrahim Musa told Daily Trust on Satur­day that foot­ball can be cruel at times as he said it is hard to be­lieve that his team didn’t win the Ai­teo Cup.

“It is the will of God. What God has des­tined, no­body can change. We did our best but God said it is not yet our time.

“All we can do at this mo­ment is to apol­o­gise to our gov­ern­ment and the sup­port­ers of Kano Pil­lars over the dis­ap­point­ment.

“As we all know, foot­ball and life gen­er­ally can be cruel at times. My play­ers gave their best but in­juries and mo­men­tary loss of con­cen­tra­tion cost us the tro­phy,” he lamented.

Mean­while, in Morocco, it was dis­as­ter fore­seen as Eny­imba failed to scale the hur­dle of Raja Casablanca in their at­tempt to reach the Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup fi­nal.

The for­mer African cham­pi­ons had lost the first leg of the cru­cial en­counter 0-1 in Aba which made the re­turn leg a daunt­ing en­deav­our.

Con­se­quently, even be­fore Wed­nes­day’s make or mar match, only few in­cur­able op­ti­mists gave the ‘Peo­ples ele­phants’ any chance of get­ting a re­sult that will take them to their first ever Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup fi­nal.

Thus, it didn’t come to many as a sur­prise that the for­mi­da­ble North-Africans did the dou­ble over Nige­ria’s most suc­cess­ful club side that will be with­out con­ti­nen­tal foot­ball next sea­son.

It is said un­like Pil­lars who en­joyed all the nec­es­sary sup­port from the Kano State gov­ern­ment, Eny­imba didn’t re­ceive enough mo­ti­va­tion from the Abia State gov­ern­ment.

Fur­ther­more, the ‘Peo­ples ele­phants’ were faced with con­ti­nen­tal du­ties, yet they pros­e­cuted con­gested fix­tures in the just con­cluded Ai­teo Cup. And to make it worse, they cov­ered long dis­tances by road to hon­our the Ai­teo Cup fix­tures.

For in­stance, af­ter their last Ai­teo Cup Group match in Gombe, they trav­elled by road back to Aba where they faced a highly mo­ti­vated Raja Casablanca in the first leg of the Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup semi-fi­nal.

It was there­fore not a sur­prise that Eny­imba put up a sham­bolic dis­play that saw them los­ing 0-1 against their op­po­nents who had ar­rived Nige­ria in a char­tered flight.

As it is, only two clubs will rep­re­sent Nige­ria in next year’s CAF club com­pe­ti­tions. Lobi Stars who were crowned NPFL cham­pi­ons af­ter the sea­son ended pre­ma­turely will fea­ture in the money spin­ning CAF Cham­pi­ons League and Ai­teo Fed­er­a­tion Cup win­ners, Rangers will slug it out in the Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup.

It is now an open se­cret that the re­duc­tion in the num­ber of clubs to rep­re­sent Nige­ria in the con­ti­nent is due to the re­cent poor per­for­mances of the coun­try’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives in both the CAF Cham­pi­ons League and Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup.

Go­ing by the present rat­ing of leagues by the Con­fed­er­a­tion of African Foot­ball, CAF, the Nige­rian foot­ball league is not among the best 12 leagues on the con­ti­nent.

Con­se­quently, Nige­ria can field only one team in each of the elite CAF club com­pe­ti­tions.

Chia­maka Madu of Rangers is chal­lenged by Al­has­san Ibrahim and Joel Djon­dang of Kano Pil­lars

Rangers cap­tain, Okey Odita lift the Ai­teo Cup 2018 with Enugu state gov­er­nor Ifeanyi Ug­wuanyi af­ter their vic­tory over Kano Pil­lars on Wed­nes­day in As­aba.

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