AITEO CUP: AKWA UNITED FACE RANGERS CHALLENGE

AITEO CUP: AKWA UNITED FACE RANGERS CHALLENGE

BY APESIN ADEMOLA.

 

There are three hurdles to clear for the teams involved at this stage of the competition. Two matches are on the list this afternoon with one tomorrow and the final one on Sunday.

 

Akwa United’s determination to successfully defend their title faces perhaps the toughest challenge as they file out at Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano against Enugu Rangers.

 

Of all the remaining teams, Rangers are the most decorated in the competition having lifted the trophy five times. But that was way back in 1983 when the tournament was known as the Challenge Cup.

 

Winning the Nigerian Premier League title in 2016 after a 22-year hiatus, Rangers were thought to have been ready to challenge for trophies. But in defending that title the following season, the Flying Antelopes managed to survive relegation as they finished only three points above the bottom four. In the just-ended season, which ended abruptly, Rangers were 10th on the log.

 

But they have since emerged strong in the ongoing Aiteo Cup. Niger Tornadoes Feeders proved tough in the Round of 64 but Rangers prevailed on penalties after regulation time ended goalless. They then dispatched Kebbi United 3-0 in the Round of 32 and won Group B, based on Kano winning one match and drawing two others.

 

Akwa United’s desire is to equal the record of the teams that recently won the title back-to-back. These included Enyimba, Heartland and Dolphins FC.

 

The Promise Keepers of Uyo were ruthless against Hope of Glory of Cross River State 7-0 in the Round of 64 and Nasarawa State’s Aklosendi 5-2 in the next phase. They then finished as runners-up to Nasarawa United in Group B based in Aba.

 

In the top-flight league at the just ended season, Akwa United beat Rangers 2-0 in Uyo and played goalless in Enugu.

 

In Lagos, Kwara United welcome Katsina United to Agege Township Stadium where the Ilorin-based team made their home in the group stage and won qualification to the last eight even with a match to spare.

 

Kwara United have never won this tournament but had represented Nigeria in the CAF Confederation Cup.

 

The journey of the Harmony Boys to this stage of the competition began at the national level with a 3-1 result over All Stars FC of Ogun State in the Round of 64. They then beat Mighty Jets, one of the old war horses of the competition, 3-1 in the Round of 32, That took them to Lagos where they walloped Abia Warriors 5-1, and Rivers United 1-0 thereby qualifying for the quarterfinals. In their last group fixture, they removed their legs from the pedal and lost to Kano Pillars 2-1.

 

Katsina United too have never won the tournament, their farthest journey being finalists on three occasions.

 

Katsina United walkover over Madagali United of Adamawa State to set up a Round of 32 fixture with Osun United who lost 1-0. They were runners-up to Enyimba in Group A located in Gombe beating Plateau United 1-0 in the final group match to go through.

 

Kwara United beat Katsina United 2-1 in the 2017/18 NPFL season in Ilorin, while the reverse fixture was one of the unfinished business of the disrupted league.

 

On Thursday, Nasarawa United will take on El-Kanemi Warriors in Aba, while CAF Confederation Cup semifinalists Enyimba will engage Kano Pillars in the other quarterfinals on Sunday in Gombe, the same day one of the semi-finals will be played.

 

Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba is the venue of the grand finale on October 14.

 

Wednesday…

Kano: Enugu Rangers (Enugu) v Akwa United (Akwa Ibom) (3pm)

Lagos: Kwara United (Kwara) v Katsina United (Katsina) (3pm)

 

Thursday…

Aba: Nasarawa United (Nasarawa) v El-Kanemi Warriors (Borno)

Gombe: Enyimba (Abia) v Kano Pillars (Kano)

 

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