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Nigerian Football

NPFL Final Day: All Eyes on Lobi’s Okpotu for Golden Boots

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BY CLEMENT NWANKPA JR.

 

 

Unless Lobi Stars’ Anthony Okpotu re-enacts Emem Eduok’s 2014 form against FC IfeanyiUbah on final day, Mfon Udoh’s record 23 goals in a season is on the verge of surviving a third season.

In 2014, Emem Eduok, then donning the colours of Dolphins, scored all six goals as Dolphins beat Nembe City 6-0. That is still a league record as no other player has scored six times in an Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) game.

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That feat at the time took Eduok’s tally to 19. Eduok would score Dolphins consolation in a 1-3 loss to Bayelsa United the next match day to grab his 20th.

Incidentally, that same match day, Mfon Udoh grabbed a brace in Enyimba’s 2-1 away win over Nembe taking his tally to 20. At 20, both players had equalled the record at the time held by Jude Aneke.

With both tied on 20 goals on match day 36, Udoh pulled away with the last two matches. He scored Enyimba’s solitary goal in the 1-1 draw with Dolphins on MD 37 before scoring twice in the 3-1 defeat of Pillars on the final day. Thus he ended the season on 23 goals, a new NPFL record.

Considering the form shown by Stephen Odey earlier this season, many thought Udoh’s record would be eclipsed.

By the halfway mark, Odey had 14 goals, nine short of equalling the record while 10 would set a new record. With 19 matches to play in the second stanza, Odey was deemed capable of setting a new record.

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But just like Godwin Oboe, last season, Ode’s potency reduced during the second stanza.

A combination of transfer imbroglios, and national team invitations didn’t help his focus on the target. He scored just four more goals bringing his tally to 18.

 

While all eyes were on Odey all season, Okpotu has stole in. His goal from the spot last Sunday means he is tied with Odey on 18.

With Odey’s move to FC Zurich, the coast is clear for Okpotu to emerge top scorer with another strike against FC IfeanyiUbah on final day.

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Everything is pointing towards Udoh’s record surviving this season unless Okpotu does an Eduok. Can ‘the Panther’ produce six goals against FCIU this weekend? That will take his tally to 24, a new record.

Interestingly, Okpotu is not new to scoring many in a game. He has scored three hat-tricks this season. So it means nine of his 18 goals have come in just three games.

With the WAFU Cup fixtures shifted till Monday making the invited players available for their teams’ final day ties, FCIU defenders would face a highly ambitious Okpotu.

Do they have antidotes to ‘the Panther’s’ venom? Just a goal would ensure Okpotu ends his most productive season with due recognition.

Perhaps, Odey needed extra push to re-enact his killer first stanza form during the second stanza.

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Like last season’s top scorer, Obaje, he removed his foot from the pedal beyond the halfway mark. If he was as potent as he was in the first stanza, he should have notched 28 goals.

Ironically, Udoh scored only eight goals in the first stanza of the season in which he set the record.

So with 15 goals, he was more potent in the second stanza. In fact, his first goal of that season was in the 3-0 defeat of Lobi Stars on match day eight.

Just as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi bring out the best in each other, Eduok’s form in 2014 was largely responsible for Udoh setting the new record. Eduok kept pushing Udoh all the way.

Perhaps, Udoh would have slowed down by match day 35 if he had 18 goals and Eduok was still on 13. But Eduok scored six times on that day taking him to 19, one more than Udoh.

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Udoh scored five in the last three games to end at 23 while Eduok scored 21 times. In fact, with both players tied at 20 goals, Dolphins engaged Enyimba on match day 37 with both players being on the score sheet. So going into the final day, both had 21 goals. Udoh’s brace on the last day gave him the edge.

So while Eduok kept firing, Udoh kept replying. Should other strikers be blamed for not pushing Odey harder?

Beyond Okpotu, injured Abia Warriors’ Sunday Adetunji is on 14; Lobi’s Kingsley Eduwo, 13; Godwin Obaje (FCIU), 12; Alhassan Ibrahim (Akwa), 12; Samuel Mathias (El Kanemi), 12; Mfon Udoh (Enyimba), 12; Adamu Hassan (Nasarawa), 12; Chinedu Udechukwu (Katsina), 11.

As the saying goes, better late than never. Okpotu’s late push may not be enough to set a new record but could suffice to overtake Odey on the final day.

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Nigerian Football

Finidi deserves our support, says former international, Kingsley Onye

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NFF Confirms Finidi George

Ahead of the first press parley that Super Eagles’ new manager, Finidi George is going to have on Thursday in Lagos, former Nigeria international, Kingsley Onye has canvassed for full support for the new coach.

 To him, the time of politicking and pushing for a particular candidate was over. “It is time for all of us to back the chosen one, Finidi George”, remarked Onye who was a left rearguard player in the 1985 class of Flying Eagles who against all odds, upstaged hosts,Soviet Union to clinch the third place in the then World Youth Championships that is now called the U-20 World Cup.

  “Although I canvassed for Emmanuel Amuneke’s candidature, am still happy that an equally good Finidi George got the job”, he said in a phone conversation from his base in the United Kingdom.

  “The fact that some players complained after Nigeria’s second friendly match in March shows that Finidi is a man of his class and cannot be influenced by players’ sentiments.

  “I believe he will take Nigeria to an enviable height, the same way Amuneke too would have done.”

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 Continuing, Onye who played for Enugu Rangers while he was in the country in the 1980s also remarked that he was on the same page with Victor Ikpeba who has asked that Finidi’s assistants should always back him in team selection  and tactical formations.

 “We should be more than 100 per cent behind the coach. If we do, he will perform wonders. He has his own philosophy which we must allow to flourish. He did it will Enyimba, leading the club to success last season and was at the brink of repeating the success before his appointment as Super Eagles’ coach.”

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Nigerian Football

Nigeria’s broadcast icon, Danladi Bako hails NFF on choice of Finidi George

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Nigerian broadcasting icon, Dr. Nasir Danladi Bako has praised the Nigeria Football Federation for settling for former international and ex-Enyimba FC strategist Finidi George as Head Coach of the Super Eagles.

The Kogunan Sakwatto, 66, who created a plethora of famous TV programmes including Morning RideMastersports and Second Chance, among others, and served as Special Adviser to a number of Sports Ministers many years ago, insisted the NFF leadership struck a bull’s eye with the appointment of the two-time FIFA World Cup star, stating that George oozes class and character, and an iron determination to succeed despite his public carapace of a quiet person.

“Finidi George has that cultured, disciplined mien and personality that makes you want to trust him with a big project. He understands the meaning of constituted authority and right from his playing days, has always displayed the attribute of a team player. He has always had that calm, collected nature even in the face of pressure or danger.

“Above all, he is not someone who thinks he is doing the nation a favour. He is grateful for the opportunity and I believe that he has all it takes to succeed. I am calling on the Federal Ministry of Sports Development, the NFF and Nigerians as a whole to support him to take the Super Eagles to brand-new heights.”

Bako, who holds a doctorate degree in development communication from the Ahmadu Bello University and was Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission between 1999 and 2002, says all hands must now be on deck to ensure victories in the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches against South Africa and Benin Republic on 7 June and 11 June respectively.

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“No doubt, the NFF got this one appointment right. Very much on point. Now, they should endeavour to give George all the support he needs to succeed in his task of qualifying Nigeria for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.”

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Nigerian Football

Nigeria’s sports minister, Enoh applauds NFF for ‘buying local material’

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Sports Minister Enoh (left) and NFF President Gusau (right) unveil Finidi.

Nigeria’s Minister of Sports Development, John Owan Enoh on Monday praised the leadership of Nigeria Football Federation for settling for an indigenous Head Coach for the Super Eagles, despite the plethora of foreign tacticians who applied for the job.

Enoh, who spoke at the unveiling ceremony of the Eagles’ new substantive Head Coach, Finidi George at the MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja, charged the NFF to give the former winger all the support to succeed, while also soliciting the support of all Nigerians for the new helmsman.

“As a student of the University of Calabar in those days, I used to go to the UJ Esuene Stadium to watch Calabar Rovers, which included Finidi George. I am excited to see him seated here as the new Head Coach of the Super Eagles.”

President of NFF,  Ibrahim Musa Gusau exuded delight with the ‘new chapter’ the Federation is opening about the Nigeria game, saying the football-governing body is determined to fully support George and his assistants to lead the Super Eagles to new heights.

“When we returned from the Africa Cup of Nations in Cote d’Ivoire, we began the search for a new Head Coach. There was a plethora of foreign applicants, far more than the indigenous applicants. However, we undertook a thorough process that has produced an indigenous Coach and we are very happy about that. Finidi George was part of the technical crew that came close to winning the AFCON, and we have faith in him that he will lead the team to the title next time.  

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“Our objective now is to ensure the enthronement of excellence at all levels of the National Teams.”

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