BY SAMMY WEJINYA.
In easily the toughest of the Aiteo Cup Round of 32 pitching together two top division ‘united’ sides, Rivers United proved superior, overwhelmingly outclassing Akwa United 3-0 in Enugu to reach the Round of 16.
Kehinde Adedipe, Bright Onyedikachi and Ossy Martins were the goal scorers for the ‘Pride of Rivers’ in the round of 32 clash decided at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium.
Rivers United started in barn storming fashion and could have scored in the opening 60 seconds when Martins got on the end of a teasing Peter Ubakanma delivery off a corner only for Etboy Akpan to clear his goal bound header off the line.
Akwa responded in the seventh minute with the Rivers United goalkeeper, Abiodun Akande forced into making a smart save to deny Dennis Nya who struck with purpose from the edge of the box.
Rivers United scored with their next goal attempt with Adedipe’s effort off an Ubakanma delivery from a free kick, crossing the line despite the best attempts by the Akwa defence to prevent the ball from hitting the back of the net.
Akwa predictably pushed forward in an attempt to get back on level terms and hurl themselves back into the contest.
They almost got the equalizer on 19 minutes when Olisema shot but saw his effort saved, again by Akande.
Spaces were now opening up for Rivers United as the Akwa United players charged up field in numbers in search of the equalizer.
They almost got caught out in the 23rd minute following an electrifying Rivers United counter attack, which ended with Bakary Bamba heading agonizingly wide from eight yards after he was set up brilliantly by the impressive Onyedikachi.
Moments later, Ubakanma fired an indirect free kick inches wide as the Port Harcourt side began to tighten the screw.
Seven minutes before the break, Akwa had and missed their best chance of the half when an unmarked Ocheme Edoh placed a header from six yards wide when it seemed easier to score.
The Uyo club, buoyed by that action, made one last push in an attempt to get back on level terms before the game got to the half way stage.
Temple Emekayi needlessly gave away a free kick at the edge of the Rivers United penalty area on the stroke of half time and set piece expert, Ndifreke Effiong stepped forward to take.
He struck it brilliantly and the ball seemed destined to nestle in the bottom corner but Akande produced an extraordinary save to push the ball away for a corner.
It was basically the last kick of a first half that ebbed and flowed but even more drama was to unfold in the second half which Akwa threatened to take by the scruff of the neck.
An Akwa free kick, five minutes after the restart was kept out by desperate Rivers United defending as the ‘Promise Keepers’ sought to briskly get the scoreline on an even keel.
All that was to change moments later as they were hit with a sucker punch with Rivers United scoring the game’s second goal with their next real attack.
A lightening break on 55 minutes culminated in Martins squaring for Onyedikachi on the far side.
The pint-sized terror still had it all to do with an Akwa United defender paying him close attention.
Onyedikachi is however a winger blessed with a magical touch and low centre of gravity and he proceeded to leave his marker flailing on his backside with ajn unbelievable feint before unleashing a fearsome strike that flew into the top right hand corner which leaving goalkeeper, Olorunleke Ojo shell-shocked.
Akwa never recovered.
It was only a matter of time before Rivers United netted their third, a stunning Martins header off a precise Justice Charles cross following another devastating counter attack in the 75th minute.
The Uyo club had some positive moments though, in a wonderfully-open second half that left the spectators gasping for breath.
Nya headed an Aniekeme Asuquo free kick over the bar in the 70th minute while Akande produced a top drawer save that defied the laws of Physics in the 72nd minute to deny Ndifreke from point blank range.
Rivers United was however the more efficient side and could have scored more as Bamba struck a fierce effort against the crossbar while an unmarked Martins headed wide from close range late in the half.
The Akwa United head coach, Abasiakan Windy refused to speak to the media after the game but striker, Edoh was more forthcoming.
“Today was their (Rivers United’s) day. We (Akwa United) didn’t play so bad but we had our chances and didn’t take them while they took theirs,” Edoh told the official Rivers United FC website, www.riversunitedfc.com.ng.
Technical manager of Rivers United FC, Stanley Eguma also shared his post match thoughts.
“We had our tactical plans for this game against Akwa United. I watched them in Lagos during the Super Six playoffs and studied their weaknesses with the aim of exploiting them.
“My players were prepared and this win will boost their confidence as our focus is to go as far as possible in this competition,” he said.