BY APESIN ADEMOLA.
With the line-up of the qualifiers for the group stage of this year’s Aiteo Cup all but one completed, the draw is now being awaited by fans of the surviving teams and other interested football watchers.
The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) is yet to announce a date and the procedure for the group stage draw. But if global sports tradition is to apply, the teams with pedigree in the competition are likely to be seeded.
Nigeria’s oldest football competition has experienced several transitions and brand names, even as recent as last year.
In June 2017, energy solution company Aiteo Group extended its five-year partnership with the NFF to include the sponsorship of the cup competition.
What was then known as the Federation Cup earned a new name – Aiteo Cup. When the club tournament started in 1945, it was called the Governor’s Cup.
Historians however recall that a War Memorial Challenge Cup was organised in Nigeria every year from 1942 to 1945.
In 1954, the Governor’s Cup became known as the FA Cup. At Nigeria’s independence in 1960, it changed status to the Challenge Cup.
Between 1999 and 2008, the competition wore the tag, Coca-Cola FA Cup. And by 2009, the Federation Cup came into the picture.
Among the 16 teams remaining in this year’s Aiteo Cup, Enugu Rangers have the highest wins – five – and may therefore be one of the four seeded teams.
The Flying Antelopes first lifted the Challenge Cup in 1974 and successfully defended it in the next two editions – 1975 and 1976 – beating Mighty Jets of Jos, Shooting Stars of Ibadan and Alyufsalam Rocks of Ilorin respectively in each of the final matches.
Five years later in 1981, Rangers defeated Bendel Insurance to reclaim the title. Their last hurrah would come in 1983 when they triumphed over Kaduna side DIC Bees 5-4 penalties after a goalless full time.
If Enyimba overcome Edo State’s Dynamite FC in their rescheduled Round of 32 fixture on Wednesday, they will be the second highest rated team in the last 16.
The People’s Elephants have won the Coca-Cola FA Cup and the Federation Cup a total four times – 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2014.
Their victims in each of those finals were respectively Lobi Stars, Sharks, Warri Wolves and Dolphins FC.
If the record of their precursors is considered, Rivers United may also be in Pot 1 for the draw. In their new name, the Port Harcourt club have never won the cup or even appeared in the final.
But Dolphins – the other club merged with Sharks to form Rivers United in 2016 – were victorious four times in the Coca-Cola FA Cup. Dolphins beat El-Kanemi Warriors in the 2001 final and overwhelmed Rangers in 2004. In 2006 and 2007, their oppositions in the finals were Bendel Insurance and Rangers.
Akwa United may be seeded not only as defending champions, but also as two-time winners.
First time in 2015, the Promise Keepers beat Lobi Stars 2-1, while Niger Tornadoes were their victims in last year’s final at the Agege Township Stadium in Lagos.
That match was quite boring as it ended goalless in regulation time with Akwa United sending their fans into a wild jubilation 3-2 on penalties.
In Pot 1, there may be no place for other past champions.
These are: El-Kanemi Warriors (1991 and 1992), Plateau United (1999), Wikki Tourists (1998) and Kano Pillars (1953).
That implies that there may be “groups of death” as these former champions and other teams in the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) may be paired together.
Not likely to be seeded are Sunshine Stars, Nasarawa United and Kwara United, all former continental cup campaigners.
Indeed, Sunshine Stars were semi-finalists in the CAF Champions League in 2012, a year after reaching the same stage in the Confederation Cup.
Nasarawa United reached the second round of CAF Champions League in 2007 and were knocked out at the first round of the Confederation Cup as recent as two years ago, while Kwara United got to the group stage of the CAF Champions League in 2007 after travelling as far as the semi-finals of the defunct CAF Cup in 1994.
Katsina United, yet another NPFL club, had featured twice in the continent. In the former African Cup Winners’ Cup, the team crashed out at the quarterfinals in 1996.
The team however withdrew from the CAF Cup in the second round in 2001. Katsina United were finalists in three successive editions of the Challenge Cup – 1995 to 1997.
Abia Warriors are the only NPFL team without any significant record. Founded in 2003, it was known as OUK between 2005 and 2010.
Kogi United (Kogi State), Supreme Court FC (FCT) and J. Atete FC, all in the Nigeria Nationwide League, are the other teams that will be involved in the draw.
The group stage of this year’s Aiteo Cup is scheduled to run for five days from next Monday, September 24 with the top two teams in each group engaged in the quarterfinals on October 3, while the semi-finals come up four days later.
Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba will host the final on October 14, a day before the CAF deadline to submit the inter-club competitions’ representatives. Nigeria will register the Aiteo Cup champions for the CAF Confederation Cup.
Lobi Stars have already been put up for the Champions League. The Makurdi side were the topmost club in the 2017/18 NPFL before the crisis that rocked Nigerian football made it impossible to conclude the league.