KADUNA – When the final of the 2019 Aiteo Cup headed to penalties, the thought must have crossed a few minds that Kano Pillars could be on the receiving end of yet another penalty shootout heartbreak in a final they should have wrapped up in regulation time.
Pillars head coach Ibrahim Musa, however, said he wasn’t “scared’ when the game went to penalties because of his side’s good record in the competition even though they had lost the last time they went to penalties in the final.
Nine months removed from the 2018 Aiteo Cup final where Pillars gave up a three-goal lead to lose 4-2 on penalties to Enugu Rangers in Asaba, the Sai Masu Gida were at it again in the 2019 final with the only difference being a failure to score a single goal from the multitude of chances created, especially in a manic second half where they mounted relentless pressure on Niger Tornadoes.
Pillars ran Tornadoes ragged in the second half but found Mustapha Aliko in terrific form for Tornadoes in goal. And on the occasions when the ball did beat the goalie, defenders were on hand to make goal-line clearances (twice) with the crossbar also playing its part in denying Yusuf Maigoro after he’d lobbed Aliko.
So, when it went to penalties after regulation time had ended all square at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, the spectre of Asaba loomed large and it would have been keeping entirely with how these things usually turn out if Pillars were to lose on set-pieces after being so dominant yet wasteful in regular time.
But having seen his side progress in the 2019 Aiteo Cup via penalties on two occasions, including a 4-2 shootout win over Calabar Rovers in the semifinal, Musa said he trusted in the abilities of his players and goalkeeper Suraj Ayefeso to repeat the feat in the final but that with football being “a game of luck” he wouldn’t have blamed anybody if they’d fallen short once again.
“No, no, no, I was’t scared because I know the goalkeeper and the kicker are trying their best,” Musa told busybuddiesng.com about his thoughts as the game headed to penalties.
“If you check the record of Pillars in this tournament, we played three penalties all we win and our goalkeeper is trying his best so even if had lost the penalties, it is a game of luck, you can’t blame anybody in the penalty shootout,” he said.
Pillars’ shootout success meant a first-ever Aiteo Cup win for the Sai Masu Gida – a feat which was accomplished under the appreciative gaze of Kano State Governor Abdullahi Ganduje.
And while it has become traditional for state governments to dish out bounties to trophy-winning sides and indeed, as deputy governor, Ganduje gave the team cars, on the three occasions Pillars won the league, Musa said the governor has announced no specific reward for the team, only that the team would “see better appreciation” if they won.
“He [Ganduje] did not promise anything he only said until we win,” Musa said about what the state government had in store for Pillars who earned ₦25m in prize money.
“I know its a government tradition in Kano. When he was a deputy governor and we won the [league] three times, we were given cars.
“This time around, he wasn’t specific about what he would give us, he just said we’d see better appreciation.”