The finals of the men and women competitions of the 2019 AITEO Cup billed for the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna on Sunday, is setting alight the former administrative capital of northern Nigeria.
In the women’s final, Cup holders Rivers Angels of Port Harcourt will clash with Nasarawa Amazons of Lafia in a match that kicks off at 2 pm.
Angels have maintained a vice grip on the women’s trophy of the women’s competition, having won eight of the past nine editions, with only Sunshine Queens of Akure (2015) breaking their streak.
Ibom Angels, from Uyo, were going to make it a third successive final against Rivers Angels, before losing to Nasarawa Amazons in the semi-finals, paving the way for the 2005 champions to constitute the opposition to Rivers Angels on Sunday.
The men’s final of the National Cup competition that used to be known over the years and decades variously as Challenge Cup, FA Cup, and Federation Cup, will see 2017 losing finalists Niger Tornadoes tango with last year’s losing finalists Kano Pillars.
Pillars’ faithful are perhaps yet to recover from last year’s shock when Masu Gida led Rangers International of Enugu 3-0 for one hour at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba, only to watch the 1977 African Cup Winners Cup champions storm back to equalize and then win on penalties.
Tornadoes, from Minna, have their ghosts to exorcise. Having played delightful football under floodlights at the Agege Stadium, Lagos in 2017, they were put to the sword by Akwa United after penalty shoot-out following a scoreless regulation period.
Additionally, the boys from Niger State (popularly known as Ikon Allah) have their fans to appease after surprisingly losing their Nigeria Professional Football League status at the end of the recently concluded season.
Tornadoes have triumphed in the competition only once in the past, after defeating Rangers International 1-0 in the 2000 final. But Pillars are still looking for their first win in the oldest competition in the land and the second oldest in Africa, with only two runners-up position to their name. This, despite tremendous success in the League.
With Pillars finishing third in the Nigeria Professional Football League and already guaranteed of a spot in next year’s CAF Confederation Cup, Niger Tornadoes are guaranteed of the second slot in the continent’s second club competition no matter the outcome of Sunday’s confrontation.
The proximity of Kano and Minna to Kaduna is one factor that is likely to guarantee a sizeable crowd to the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, on the occasion of the third year sponsorship of the competition by Nigeria’s leading energy solution company, AITEO Group.
“Many people believe that Kano Pillars will have it easy against us simply because we got relegated to the lower division,” observed Niger Tornadoes’ veteran goalkeeper and captain, Mustapha Aliko. “We have won the Cup (Tornadoes beat Enugu Rangers 1-0 in the 2000 edition) before and technically, I don’t think we are inferior to Kano Pillars.
“It is true that they parade some of the best players around but that is not to say we won’t be able to play our game. If they believe we are underdogs in this match, they will receive a rude shock. In addition, AITEO Cup is always full of surprises.”
However, in the camp of Kano Pillars, there is robust optimism. “What you (Kano Pillars) have achieved is a unique feat,” Kano State’s Deputy Governor, Dr. Nasiru Yusuf Gawuna was quoted as saying. “You have made it back-to-back in the final. You were there (in the final) last year and you are there again this year; Insha Allah (by the grace of God), that Cup is ours.”
And even though both teams have pocketed tickets to continental campaigns ahead of Sunday, the mouth-watering cash prize on offer for the winning team is a big incentive to push both to optimum performance.
At stake are prize monies of ₦25 million for the winner of the men’s competition and ₦10 million for the winner of the women’s competition. The runner-up for the men’s competition will pocket ₦10 million, with the runner-up for the women’s event going home with ₦5 million.