BY SAMMY WEJINYA
A very special football match will be played on
Wednesday at the ‘Cathedral’, the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu when two
grand establishments in Nigerian football, Akwa United and Rivers United go toe
to toe for the right to play in the last 16 of Nigeria’s oldest football
competition, the AITEO (Federation) Cup.
Akwa reached this stage of the competition by beating Sokoto United 2-1 at the Old Parade Ground, Abuja in the round of 64 while Rivers United outclassed FC Timberloader 4-0 at the Lafia City Stadium, Lafia at the same stage.
Wednesday’s game is extremely vital for both Nigeria Professional Football League clubs as success will mean their only route to the continent, next season, remains ajar.
Akwa is a side laced with top talent; Jean Efala, Olorunleke Ojo, Ottobong Effiong, Kodjovi Dadzie Ubong Essien, Dennis Nya, Wilson Elu, Cyril Olisema and Ndifreke Effiong easily roll off the tongue.
There’s also the small matter of feared marksman, Mfon Udoh who is surrounded by a stellar caste which includes Wisdom Fernando, Ocheme Edoh and Godspower Aniefiok.
Akwa also have the luxury of having two former Rivers United players, Markson Ojobo and Emeka Atuloma who both represented the ‘Pride of Rivers’ in the CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup where they reached the group stages of the competition to call on, for ‘inside information’ about the Port Harcourt club.
Trouble in the Akwa camp
Akwa United is one of the top sides in Nigerian football.
The objective, for the Uyo club, before the just concluded NPFL campaign commenced was clear – Akwa United was condemned to win the league title or at least, deliver a continental ticket
The ‘Promise Keepers’ kept the first part of the bargain by qualifying for the Super Six playoffs in Lagos (which kept them within striking distance of the main thing) but imploded spectacularly like a pack of badly-arranged cards when the ‘real dance’ commenced.
In Lagos, Akwa could only manage one win (against the worst team in the playoffs, FC Ifeanyiubah – a side that lost all of its five matches in the competition) while they failed to amass maximum points in the direct shootouts against the other Top Dogs in the division, Enyimba, Kano Pillars, Enugu Rangers and Lobi Stars.
Frailties were badly exposed in Lagos, venue of the ‘Super Six’ playoffs and there were always going to be consequences.
The club fired Brazilian head coach, Rafael Everton before their last game in the competition, in a bid to arrest the slide.
It backfired spectacularly as Akwa got comprehensively outclassed 3-0 by Enyimba International in their last game of the competition.
The Cat had truly been set amongst the Pigeons at the Uyo club which managed to eke out a 2-1 win over the unfashionable Sokoto United in the round of 64 of the AITEO Cup at the weekend.
After that game in Abuja, the Akwa United supremo, “Etubom” Elder Paul Bassey was less than impressed as he addressed the media.
“People should run football well (in this country). I have just been informed that (Akwa United) will play against (Rivers United on June 19) and that if we win, we will play on (the next) Sunday and again next Wednesday, if we win again,” Elder Bassey told journalist, Kola Daniel.
“I don’t know what the punishment will be if Akwa United (withdraws) from this tournament because that’s what my mind is thinking.
“Where are the resources? What about wear and tear that the players may face?
“Why should (Akwa United) be made to suffer for something that we know nothing about (deadline to submit the nomenclature of the club to represent Nigeria in the CAF Confederation Cup next season)?
“Why did (the organizers) wait this long? Why didn’t the teams that didn’t play in the Super Six play their games (in the AITEO Cup) before now?,” an angry Etubom Bassey queried.
Whether this will have a detrimental effect on players of Akwa United on Wednesday remains to be seen.
Blue tide rising
In stark contrast, the mood couldn’t be happier in the Rivers United camp with players, coaching staff and members of the management bubbling with excitement.
The team is currently playing swashbuckling, wonderfully-aesthetic and effective football and winger, Bright Onyedikachi who scored a Diego Maradona-esque goal (ala England at the 1986 Fifa World Cup quarter final) in the classy 4-0 against FC Timberloader in the round of 64 said the objective was to record a win on Wednesday.
“Akwa is a very good side but all the players have resolved to win,” he said.
Technical manager of the Port Harcourt club, Stanley Eguma also took the time to preview the big game.
“The game against Akwa United is a very big game as they are a big side, just like us,” Eguma told the club’s official website, www.riversunitedfc.com.ng.
“We never expected to meet ourselves at this stage of the competition but this is the AITEO Cup where we should be ready to face any side.
“We will do our best to eliminate them as we know what it takes to win at this stage.
“They are a strong side and we respect them but we are we are prepared to advance in this competition,” he said.
Wednesday’s game will kickoff at 4pm and it holds at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu.