BY APESIN ADEMOLA.
The Nigerian football fields are again set agog. First it went on break shortly before Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup last June. Then it got enmeshed in the protracted legal dispute over the leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation.
To meet CAF deadline for the submission of teams for its club competitions, a “Doctrine of Necessity” canvassed by Sports Village Square had to be adopted.
When that was over, the protest by sections of the top-flight league and the immediate lower cadre about the promotion and relegation processes bedevilled the start of a new season for the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL). Gladly however, all is now finally settled and the 2018/19 NPFL get off the ground on Sunday.
Now divided into two groups of 12 teams each, the top two teams in each group of the regular 22-match season will fight for the title in the round-robin championship phase, while the bottom four in each section will battle to determine which four teams will stay up.
On the opening day, Lobi Stars and Rangers, both in Group A, will be excused from duty because of their continental fixtures. Their league matches (Lobi Stars v Katsina United, Rangers v Niger Tornadoes) will be rearranged.
Also, since the Nigerian National League Super 8, was concluded only last Thursday, the Matchday 1 fixtures of the newly promoted teams will be rescheduled.
Kaduna-based Kada Stars, which won the NNL Super 8, would have been in Port Harcourt on Sunday to face Go Round FC, while Insurance of Benin, runners-up of the Super 8, would have played away to Wikki Tourists.
Also postponed are the matches involving Gombe United and Remo Stars, the other teams just elevated. Gombe United would have had a date in Damaturu with Yobe Desert Stars, while Remo Stars were to be hosted by Rivers United.
Also in Group A with title holders Lobi Stars are Enyimba, Nigeria’s most successful club with two CAF Champions League and as many CAF Super Cup titles in their trophy shelf but who have not won the domestic league title since 2015, their seventh win.
Enyimba will start the campaign at home against Lagos team MFM, who almost won the league in the 2016/17 season dropping out to eventual champions Plateau United in the last two rounds of matches.
The other match in Group A pairs Kwara United against Sunshine Stars in Ilorin, while four matches are to be played another day. These are the earlier mentioned Lobi Stars v Katsina United, Rangers v Niger Tornadoes, Wikki Tourists v Insurance, and Rivers United v Remo Stars.
Last season’s runners-up Akwa United and 2016/17 winners Plateau United headline Group B that also include former champions Kano Pillars.
Akwa United will host El-Kanemi Warriors at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo, while Plateau United welcome FC Ifeanyi Ubah to Rwang Pam Stadium, Jos as Kano Pillars engage Heartland at the Sani Abacha Stadium and Nasarawa United v Abia Warriors.
Yobe Desert Stars v Gombe United, Go Round FC v Kada Stars are to be rearranged.
Insurance of Benin, one of the country’s legacy club sides, last played in the top flight 10 years ago, while Gombe Stars and Remo Stars are making a return to the topflight.
Matchday 1 fixtures…
- Kwara United v Sunshine Stars (4pm)
- Enyimba v MFM (4pm)
- Wikki Tourists v Insurance (4pm)
- Rivers United v Remo Stars (4pm)
- Rangers v Niger Tornadoes * postponed
- Lobi Stars v Katsina United * postponed
- Nasarawa United v Abia Warriors (4pm)
- Plateau United v FC Ifeanyi Ubah (4pm)
- Kano Pillars v Heartland (4pm)
- Akwa United v El-Kanemi Warriors (4pm)
- Yobe Desert Stars v Gombe United *postponed
- Go Round FC v Kada Stars *postponed