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