The 2018 Aiteo Cup final between Rangers of Enugu and Kano Pillars served up a beautiful dish of football that was well consumed by Nigerians, home and abroad.
It was a game full of everything. There was goals aplenty (six for that matter) and some high drama.
Succinctly put, there was the good, the bad and the other side.
Pillars came out smoking, they tore Rangers to shreds and ran them ragged. They would have gone into the break with a four-goal lead or more if not for profligacy in front of goal.
It was that bad for Rangers.
Goals by Rabiu Ali and Ibrahim Alhassan put Pillars ahead inside 20 minutes and it was looking like a rout.
Rangers were in sixes and sevens as they had no answers to Pillars front-line of Junior Lokosa, Nyima Nwagua, Alhassan Ibrahim and the ageless Rabiu Ali.
It was a beauty to watch. Pillars put up a proper football show in the first half. They attacked Rangers in droves and made it look all too easy.
Probably the best 45 minutes I’ve seen from a Nigerian like side since Ranchers Bees tore Abiola Babes apart in 1987.
The Kano side could have been out of reach if they converted the avalanche of chances they created in the opening half.
It looked like it was done and dusted when Nwagua got a third for Pillars early in the second half. I felt pity for Rangers.
I genuinely did.
But credit to them, they dug deep and came up with the goods. It was a proper cup final, something to be spoken about for years to come.
Here are a few pointers I pinched from the game.
The Kano lads left no one in doubt when the game started. Barely minutes into the game, the had scored via a break-away goal. Rabiu Ali got them ahead and then after missing two chances, Alhassan Ibrahim scored from a corner.
|Okey Odita slides in to try stop Junior Lokosa|
The transition from defence to attack looked well choreographed as they kept bombarding Rangers through the centre and from the wings. Every neutral surely enjoyed the attacking display from Pillars and no one would have had any issues if they had won.
Davidson Owumi’s gamble.
A lot was said about the substitution of Femi Thomas who was piss poor on the day. An agitated Owumi beckoned on reserve goalkeeper Nana Bonsu to warm up.
Not Gbenga Ogunbote but Owumi.
It looked weird to me. I’m not sure he should have been on the technical bench in the first place given his job description but he was and how it turned out to be gold.
Bonsu saved a certain ‘dagger’ in Ranger’s heart when he stopped Junior Lokosa’s shot in the latter stages of the game and then came up big during the spot kicks.
Surely that was a major game-changing decision right there.
Kelvin Itoya’s introduction
This, by a hundred notches, was the turning point of the game for Rangers. The former Warri Wolves man brought a fresh spark in Rangers attack and it was the needed impetus needed for the Enugu side.
What a stupendous effort by Kelvin Itoya.— Andrew Randa (@RandaAndrew) October 24, 2018
All of 30 yards and he struck it well.
Is the comeback on?#AiteoCupFinal18
Despite missing a clear-cut chance-a free header, Itoya scored with a bolter from 30 yards which had Obiazo in goal for Pillars sprawling on the turf.
That goal was a sign from the gods. It was Rangers all the way from there. Chidera Ezeh got a second and it was just a matter of time before Rangers completed the comeback.
And when Ajani Ibrahim answered that call by planting his header firmly into the Pillars net, the coupé de grace berthed.
The dream had come true.
With the renewed energy and confidence, there could only be one winner going into penalties.
Nana Bonsu was the hero of the day saving Jamiu Ismaila's spot-kick before Isaac Loute scored the winner as Rangers became champions.
A lot of people left the game at 3-0 and had already concluded the game was done and dusted. Alas, no one saw a Rangers revival.
Granted Rangers have been the comeback kings of the Aiteo Cup 2018 (think the 4-2 win over Nasarawa United in the semis after going down 2-0) but not many thought it could happen in a final.
In fact, a lot would have bet on a flurry of goals from Pillars than Rangers getting back on level terms, but when it got to penalties, there could be only one winner.
The manner at which the Kano side surrendered a three-goal lead beggars belief. They had it in their palms but they lost it.
Pillars took their foot off the gas after the third goal and resorted to negative tactics. Player kept dropping like flies and then injuries set in. It was a complete departure from the plucky display in the first half.
I’m still scratching myself to how they let it go. Pillars had one hand on the trophy but they somehow contrived to let it go.
Not like Rangers will mind though.
The grass. Yes, the grass.
The ambience of the Stephen Keshi Stadium surely added to the glamour on the day but not same can be said of the pitch.
One must give kudos to the Delta State government for daring to build a stadium with a grass pitch instead of going the way of synthetic pitches was has unfortunately pervaded the Nigerian scene.
That being said, the grass was too long and should have been cut at least two levels down. I spoke to some players prior to the game and they all complained about it.
Pillars left back Chris Madaki spoke to 9jafooty after the match revealing how he found it difficult running with the ball as the grass held him back. He also said the pitch felt like a desert despite the grass on it.
“That pitch gets as e be (the pitch has issues) because to run sef na wahala and e dey drag pesin back (it is difficult to turn on it and it drags you back),” he told 9jafooty.
“I hope it doesn’t rain on match day because wahala (trouble) go dey. I pray it does not rain because everywhere will be poto-poto (muddy).
“But kudos to Rangers, they deserved their win, na we do ourselves (we caused our own defeat),” Madaki added.
Ifeanyi Nweke and Emma Anyanwu in defence for Pillars were substituted due to injury and all attributed the state of the pitch to the muscle cramps they suffered according to sources in the Pillars camp.
On television, it looked okay but the grass level was a bit too long.
This year’s Aiteo Cup (not final) is one of the worst ever organised and there are facts to back this. The president of the NFF has however apologised for this and promised to do better next year.
On to the next one.
But before that, let’s talk about the high handiness of security personnel when it comes to matches that have dignitaries. Their attitude and behaviour leave a lot to be desired.
Fans (with match tickets) and journalists (with accreditation) found it difficult to access the stadium for nearly an hour before they finally made it in due to the excesses of the security men at the gates.
A few Kano Pillars players had to walk into the stadium to make matters worse. It wasn’t exactly a beautiful sight.
The medals presentation also leaves a lot to be desired as it looked so rowdy there was a conglomeration of journalists, spectators, administrators and government officials by the podium.
This shouldn’t be so.
The medals presentation in Yenagoa (during the Women’s final) was better organised than what transpired on Wednesday.
This should be worked upon. Work areas should be demarcated properly so journalists on the ground can do their jobs properly.
Security agents also need to be trained properly on how to conduct themselves at sporting events and how to manage crowds.
Show of shame by fans
It was sad to see fans jump over the perimeter fencing and onto the pitch after the final whistle. It spoilt an otherwise beautiful evening of football.
Rangers fans who were delirious with joy spilt into the pitch and at that point, anything could have happened. This has to be avoided in the future.
The security agents could not do much about it and offered very little resistance as the pitch became like a concert ground.
Kano Pillars fans also destroyed parts of the stadium as they tore the seats and hurled them all over the place in apparent displeasure at the manner their team lost the game.
Our fans need to learn to behave even if results don’t go your way. Stadiums should be a safe haven for people to come to watch football and be entertained.
Emotions should be kept in check.