Asaba, the capital city of Delta State gets ready to open its Big Heart on Wednesday evening to football fans from around Nigeria as two among the best football clubs in the land go head-to-head in the final of the AITEO Cup 2018 men’s competition at the Stephen Keshi Stadium.
The newly renovated stadium will become the 14th venue to host the 73 –year old glamour of Football Competition in Nigeria. It was named after a legendary Nigerian was the longest –serving Senior Men Football Team captain and also coached the team to win the Africa Cup of Nations title on away ground.
Fans could not have asked for better final ficture, with Rangers – a traditional powerhouse team with a robust history – and Pillars both in amazing form at the moment with some of the best players in the domestic scene on their roster.
The Flying Antelopes with a large fan base across the federation will be led out by ageless defender Okey Odita, and there are also Semiu Liadi and Isaac Loute, as well as Ugochukwu Ugwuoke, Bright Silas, Ifeanyi George and Ugonna Uzochukwu.
Rangers, who won the Africa Cup Winners’ Cup in 1977, and are five –time winners of the AITEO Cup under its previous names of Challenge Cup and FA Cup, have not taken home the most glamorous diadem in the land since beating DIC Bees of Kaduna on penalties at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos 35 years ago.
Kano Pillars are in no way push –overs either, as they would be aiming to take home the title for the first time, after losing to El-Kanemi Warriors 2-3 in the 1991 final played also at the National Stadium, Lagos. Alhough, a team known as Kano XI became the first team from the northern part of the country to win the Cup after defeating Lagos Dynamos 2-1 at the Association Ground six and a half decades ago.
It took another 36 years for a northern team to triumph, when BCC Lions – led by the late Amodu Shaibu – shocked Iwuanyanwu Nationale by the odd goal at the Tafawa Balewa Stadium, Bauchi in 1989.
Pillars’ supporters will look forward to see their 2017 NPFL goal king Junior Lokosa on Wednesday who came close to making the cut for Nigeria’s 2018 FIFA World Cup final squad.
Rangers will also be weary of another ageless performer, midfield ace Rabiu Ali, likely to lead out Pillars, and performers like Nyima Nwagua, Emmanuel Anyanwu, Nzube Anaezemba and Hillary Ikenna who are match winners on their day. They must also watch out for Joel Djoundang and Ibrahim Alhassan.
Last year’s final, marked the first time it would be called AITEO Cup following the acquisition of the naming right by Nigeria’s leading energy solution group, held at the Agege Stadium. The final saw Akwa United of Uyo prevail over Niger Tornadoes after a penalty shoot –out under floodlights.
This year’s final would also be under floodlights, with the game set to kick off at 6pm. The host, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, is expected to be viewing from the VVIP Box with his Enugu and Kano State counterparts – Governors Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Umar Abdullahi Ganduje respectively. The NFF President and CAF 1st Vice President, Mr. Amaju Pinnick and the full attendance of members of his Executive Committee will also be present.
Before the tussle goes down, fans will be thrilled to musical performances from top Nigerian music stars in persons of Patoranking, Phyno and Seyi Shay.