It could not have been a more fitting final, with Rangers – one of the truly traditional powerhouse teams in the country with a robust history – and Pillars both inflaming forms at the moment with some of the best players in the domestic scene on their books.
The Flying Antelopes with a large following across the federation will be led out by ageless defender Okey Odita, and there are also Semiu Liadi and Isaac Loute, as well as Ugochukwu Ugwuoke, Bright Silas, Ifeanyi George, and Ugonna Uzochukwu.
The city of Asaba, capital of Delta State must be fully ready with its Big Heart on Wednesday evening as two of the best –supported football clubs in the land tango in the final of the AITEO Cup 2018 men’s competition at the Stephen Keshi Stadium.
Named after Nigeria’s longest –serving Senior Men Football Team captain who also coached the team to win the Africa Cup of Nations title on away ground, the newly –renovated arena will become the 14th venue to host the 73 –year old glamour National Football Cup.
Rangers, who won the Africa Cup Winners’ Cup in 1977, and are five-time winners of the AITEO Cup under its previous names of Challenge Cup and FA Cup, have not taken home the most glamorous diadem in the land since beating DIC Bees of Kaduna on penalties inside the National Stadium, Lagos 35 years ago.
The lines from above may just inspire the boys from Enugu, as it can be recalled that the team made good in the Elite League two years ago after waiting for 32 years.
Yet, Kano Pillars would not be push –overs in any way. As Pillars, they would be aiming to take home the title for the first time, after losing to El-Kanemi Warriors 2-3 in the 1991 final played also at the National Stadium, Lagos. Though, a team styled Kano XI became the first team from the northern part of the country to win the Cup after defeating Lagos Dynamos 2-1 at the Association Ground 65 years ago.
It would then take another 36 years for another team from the northern sector to triumph, when BCC Lions – coached by Amodu Shaibu of blessed memory – shocked Iwuanyanwu Nationale by the odd goal at the Tafawa Balewa Stadium, Bauchi in 1989.
Pillars’ biggest name on the sheet on Wednesday could be Junior Lokosa, the 2017 NPFL goal king who came close to making the cut for Nigeria’s 2018 FIFA World Cup final squad.
However, there are also equally dangerous customers. Odita will be confronted promptly in the tunnel by another ageless performer, midfield ace Rabiu Ali, likely to lead out Pillars, and artists like Nyima Nwagua, Emmanuel Anyanwu, Nzube Anaezemba, and Hillary Ikenna are match winners on their day. Rangers must also watch out for Joel Djoundang and Ibrahim Alhassan.
Before the Stephen Keshi Stadium, venues that have hosted the National Cup finale include the Association Ground, Lagos (which later became King George V, later Lagos City Stadium and later Onikan Stadium); Liberty Stadium, Ibadan; National Stadium, Lagos; Lekan Salami Stadium, Ibadan; Tafawa Balewa Stadium, Bauchi; Aper Aku Stadium, Makurdi; Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna; Ranch Bees Stadium, Kaduna; Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin City; Liberation Stadium, Port Harcourt (now Yakubu Gowon Stadium); Sani Abacha Stadium, Kano and; Agege Stadium, Lagos.
Last year’s final, which marked the first time it would be called AITEO Cup following the acquisition of the naming rights by Nigeria’s leading energy solution group, was at the Agege Stadium and Akwa United of Uyo prevailed over Niger Tornadoes after penalty shoot-out under floodlights.
Wednesday’s final would also be under floodlights, with the game to kick off at 6 pm. Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State is expected to be installed in the VVIP Box with his Enugu and Kano State counterparts – Governors Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Umar Abdullahi Ganduje respectively. President of the NFF and CAF 1st Vice President, Mr. Amaju Pinnick and the full complement of members of his Executive Committee will join them.
Leading Nigerian music stars Patoranking (Okorie Patrick Nnaemeka), Phyno and Seyi Seyi (Deborah Joshua) will entertain guests before hostilities kick off on the lush turf.
AITEO CUP: PAST FINALS
1945: Marine 1-0 Corinthians
1946: Lagos Railways 3-1 Port Harcourt FC
1947: Lagos Marine 3-1 Lagos Railways
1948: Lagos Railways 1-0 Warri XI
1949: Lagos Railways 3-0 Port Harcourt FC
1950: Lagos UAC 3-2 Port Harcourt FC
1951: Lagos Railways 3-2 Mighty Jets
1952: PAN Bank 6-0 Warri
1953: Kano XI 2-1 Lagos Dynamos
1954: Calabar 3-0 Kano XI
1955: Port Harcourt FC 4-1 Warri
1956: Lagos Railways 3-1 Warri
1957: Lagos Railways 5-1 Zaria
1958: Port Harcourt FC 6-0 Federal United
1959: Ibadan Lions 1-0 Police
1960: Lagos ECN 5-2 Ibadan Lions
1961: Ibadan Lions 1-0 Lagos UAC
1962: Police 1-0 Mighty Jets
1963: Port Harcourt FC 1-0 Mighty Jets
1964: Lagos Railways 3-1 Mighty Jets
1965: Lagos ECN 3-1 Mighty Jets
1966: Ibadan Lions W/O Mighty Jets
1967: Stationery Stores 3-1 Mighty Jets
1968: Stationery Stores 3-1 Warri
1969: Ibadan Lions 5-1 Warri
1970: Lagos ECN 3-1 Mighty Jets
1971: WNDC Ibadan 2-1 Enugu Rangers
1972: Bendel Insurance 3-2 Mighty Jets
1973: -All Africa Games
1974: Enugu Rangers 2-0 Mighty Jets
1975: Enugu Rangers 1-0 Shooting Stars
1976: Enugu Rangers 2-0 Alyufsalam Rocks
1977: Shooting Stars 2-0 Raccah Rovers
1978: Bendel Insurance 3-0 Enugu Rangers
1979: Shooting Stars 2-0 Sharks FC
1980: Bendel Insurance 1-0 Stationery Stores
1981: Enugu Rangers 2-0 Bendel Insurance
1982: Stationery Stores 4-1 Niger Tornadoes
1983: Enugu Rangers 0-0 DIC Bees
*Rangers won 5-4 on a penalty shootout
1984: Leventis United 1-0 Abiola Babes
1985: Abiola Babes 0-0 BCC Lions
*Abiola Babes won 6 – 5 on a penalty shootout
1986: Leventis United 1-0 Abiola Babes
1987: Abiola Babes 1-1 Ranchers Bees
*Abiola Babes won 7-6 on a penalty shootout
1988: Iwuanyanwu 3-0 Flash Flamingoes
1989: BCC Lions 1-0 Iwuanyanwu
1990 Stationery Stores 0-0 Enugu Rangers
*Stores won 5-4 on a penalty shootout
1991: El-Kanemi Warriors 3-2 Kano Pillars FC
1992: El-Kanemi 1-0 Stationery Stores
1993: BCC Lions 1-0 Plateau United
1994: BCC Lions 1-0 Julius Berger FC
1995: Shooting Stars 2-0 Katsina United
1996: Julius Berger 1-0 Katsina United
1997: BCC Lions 1-0 Katsina United
1998: Wikki Tourists 0-0 Plateau United
1999: Plateau United 1-0 Iwuanyanwu
2000: Tornadoes 1-0 Rangers
2001: Dolphins FC 2-0 El-Kanemi
2002: Julius Berger 3-0 Yobe Stars
2003: Lobi Stars 2-0 Sharks FC
2004: Dolphins FC 1-0 Enugu Rangers
2005: Enyimba 1-1 Lobi Stars
*Enyimba won 6-5 on a penalty shootout
2006: Dolphins FC 2-2 Bendel Insurance
*Dolphin won 5-3 on a penalty shootout
2007: Dolphins FC 1-1 Enugu Rangers
* Dolphin won 3-2 on a penalty shootout
2008: Ocean Boys 2-2 Gombe United
* Ocean Boys won 7-6 on a penalty shootout
2009: Enyimba 1-0 Sharks FC
2010: Kaduna United 3-3 Enyimba
* Kaduna United won 3-2 on a penalty shootout
2011: Heartland 1-0 Enyimba
2012: Heartland 2-1 Lobi Stars
2013 Enyimba 2-2 Warri Wolves
*Enyimba won 5-4 on a penalty shootout
2014: Enyimba 2-1 Dolphins FC
2015: Akwa United 2-1 Lobi Stars
2016: FC Ifeanyi Ubah 0-0 Nassarawa United
*FC Ifeanyi Ubah won 5-4 on a penalty shootout
2017: Akwa United 0-0 Niger Tornadoes
*Akwa United won 3-2 on penalties