One thing is certain for Rivers Angels this season, they will not be celebrating a double in terms of titles. However, landing the AITEO Cup title worth N10 million could as well serve as a double (or more) in terms of monetary value for a team that won a combined prize money of N1,350,000 from the cup and league double they achieved last year.
Following their abysmal performance at the just concluded Nigeria Women Premier League Super Four championship, where they could only manage a point from three matches thereby failing to defend their league title, it will not be out of place to describe the Jewel of Rivers as wounded lions. And many are of the opinion that their opponents, Ibom Angels, may not be able to survive their onslaught when the AITEO Cup final comes alive at the Rwang Pam Stadium in Jos on Wednesday.
Reacting to that however head coach of Ibom Angels, Whyte Ogbonda has insisted that the final will be a “hard fight” because his girls will not lie low and watch Rivers Angels trample on them.
“The AITEO Cup final is going to be a hard fight because Rivers Angels lost out at the (NWPL) Super Four and definitely they will be coming out in full force,” Ogbonda told busybuddiesng.com. “We too, this is the first time we (Ibom Angels) are competing in any final at all. So we are going all out to make sure we get the trophy for the Akwa Ibom State Government.”
After a delay of over two weeks caused by Confluence Queens’ protest against Abia Angels, Ibom Angels finally knew their semi-final opponents last week Monday (9 October). Confluence Queens had alleged that Abia Angels used ineligible players in the second leg quarter final match against them, but the organizers of the competition reinstated Abia Angels – after throwing them out earlier – when their investigations proved otherwise.
Moving on from that, Ibom Angels enjoyed a 2-0 victory at home in the first leg of their semi-final encounter against Abia Angels before sealing a final berth in Umuahia despite a 2-1 defeat. They advanced 3-2 on aggregate.
“I will tell you that I am very, very happy being at the AITEO cup final bearing in mind that I left Rivers Angels where I worked for seven years and where I won the Federation Cup five years back to back,” said Ogbonda.
“I left them last year so I could try myself elsewhere and the AITEO Cup is the reason I was brought to Ibom Angels because they say I have the experience. We were unlucky that last year we could not get to the final but this time around I am very, very happy we reached the final.”
The last time Ibom Angels played against Rivers Angels in the Federation Cup (now AITEO Cup) was in the Round of 16 of the 2013 edition where the Jewel of Rivers needed penalties to dispatch them after a goalless affair in regulation time.
In 2014, Ibom Angels were also knocked out in the Round of 16 by Bayelsa Queens. Confluence Queens sent the Uyo-based side packing at the same stage in 2015 on penalties, then it was the turn of Delta Queens in 2016 to knock them out in the Round of 16 on penalties as well.
But this time, Ibom Angels did not only go beyond the Round of 16, they reached the final for the first time in their history. Their coach, Whyte Ogbonda, was assistant to Rivers Angels coach Edwin Okon when the Jewel of Rivers won the Federation Cup title in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Defending champions Rivers Angels and Ibom Angels have already met twice this year in the regular season of the Nigeria Women Premier League (NWPL) and both encounters ended in draws. While Rivers Angels made it to the Super Four, Ibom Angels did not but they could boast of producing the highest goal scorer by the end of the regular season – Charity Reuben.
Prior to Rivers Angels’ poor showing at the NWPL Super 4 championship in Benin City, they spanked arch-rivals Bayelsa Queens 4-0 in their AITEO Cup second leg semi-final encounter to progress 6-2 on aggregate.
After that victory, coach of the side Edwin Okon boasted: “We are champions. Rivers Angels are champions. Rivers State is the home of champions and at that level I think there is no reason to shake.
“So our aim is to keep the cup, take the cup to the honourable commissioner (for sports) and onward to the number 1 man in the state, the governor.”
In spite of whatever happened in Benin, Rivers Angels are still favourites for the AITEO Cup title on Wednesday and if they win, they will become the most successful team in the competition with seven titles. They are currently tied on six titles with Pelican Stars of Calarbar.
However, Ibom Angels can draw inspiration from their male counterparts, Akwa United, who emerged winners of the men’s AITEO Cup on Sunday.
The women’s AITEO Cup final will take centre stage at the Rwang Pam Stadium in Jos on Wednesday, October 18.
AITEO Cup – Road to Final
Round of 32 – Rivers Angels 5-0 Delta Babes
Round of 16 – Rivers Angels 9-0 Ben Women FC
Quarter-final – Rivers Angels vs Edo Queens (0-0 on aggregate; 3-0 on penalties)
Semi-final – Rivers Angels vs Bayelsa Queens (6-2 on aggregate)
Round of 32 – Drawn Bye
Round of 16 – Ibom Angels 1-1 Osun Babes (Replay: 1-0)
Quarter-final – Ibom Angels vs Pelican Stars (1-0 on aggregate)
Semi-final – Ibom Angels vs Abia Angels (3-2 on aggregate)