Asaba – When Delta State Government confirmed that all was now set for the 2018 Federation Cup finals between Rangers of Enugu and Kano Pillars of Kano Wednesday October 24, 2018 inside the 25,000 capacity Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba, Delta State capital, it was like a tall dream.
Officials of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Executives, including past Executives, State Football Association (FA) Chairmen, State FA Secretaries and NFF Secretaries were all on ground before the final of competition. Tickets for the encounter were sold in many designated places at N2,000.00 for VIP and N1,000.00 popular side. Fans were advised to enter the stadium through the appropriate gates as indicated in their tickets.
It was the first time Rangers is winning the competition since it was renamed. The Enugu based football outfit had won the annual competition five times before the latest victory. They won it in 1974, 1975, 1976, 1981 and 1983.They were beaten finalist in 2000, 2004 and 2007.
A day to final, Governor Okowa disclosed that the state was poised to host the finals. Speaking after an inspection tour of the Stadium, Governor Okowa said that the fine-tuning of the facilities at the stadium was completed and ready for the FA finals.
“I think the facilities are set for the 2018 FA Cup finals. The pitch is ready and the floodlights are completed and fine-tuned. Everything is ready. I have seen the dressing rooms, the medical zone, the media zone and the pitch. I can tell you, we are ready for the finals”, he said.
The Governor who was conducted round by Ogbueshi Patrick Ukah, Commissioner for Information, Mr. Tonibok Okowa, Chairman, Delta State Sports Council and members of Sports Council was informed of the arrangements to host the participating teams and dignitaries expected at the finals.
Before the final match, the stadium was filled to capacity by football lovers who were mainly from the Eastern part of the country and Delta State. There was a curtain raiser between Comprehensive Secondary School, Ogwashi Uku, and West End Mixed Secondary School and entertainment/musical performance before the kick off. High profile artist, Patoranking, led other notable musicians to add additional colour to the event. Nigerian-born music maestros, Phyno, Jagaban, among others also spiced up the action-packed football match.
Senator Okowa, his Enugu State counterpart, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Deputy Governors of Edo, Kano, President of Nigeria Football Federation, Pinnick Amaju, coach of the Super Eagles, Genor Rohr were among dignitaries who watched the final.
The final was at the end decided on penalties with the Flying Antelopes coming out victorious. Rangers converted four penalties while Kano Pillars converted two during the pulsating encounter.
Scores at the end of regulation time was three goals apiece, with Rangers coming from three goals down to draw level at the 92nd minute. Rabiu Ali opened the scoring in the 5th minute with a close range volley. Ibrahim Alhassan doubled it for Pillars in 20th minute.
The Kano based outfit continued their scoring form on resumption of second half when Nwagua Nymar made it three in the 47th minute. Rangers started the come back in the 77th with a well-taken shot by Kelvin Itoye from outside the area. Chidera Eze added the second in the 82nd minute while substitute Ajani Ibrahim completed the come back in the second minute of added time to set the stage for penalty shootout.
In what football enthusiasts described as tactical error, Kano Pillars withdrew to their defence giving room for Enugu Rangers to mount pressure on them which their defence caved in, giving Enugu Rangers the opportunity to score the first goal and went ahead to level the score line 3-3. At the end of 90 minutes of play, the referee added 8 minutes extra time before the two teams played penalties that ended in favour of Enugu Rangers.
Finally, trophy was handed to Enugu Rangers while medals were presented to the football players of both teams.
Governor Okowa the next day, declared open the annual general assembly of NFF, calling on different state governments to be involved in the development of sports to curb societal ills in the country.
According to the Governor, “the more we get our youths to exert their energy in the appropriate direction, the better for us as a nation, sports unifies the people, football is very unifying and all the states of the country should be involved in sports development and support the growth of football.”
He observed that crime and criminal activities hardly occur when there are sporting events, asserting, “we believe that we must direct the energy of our youths appropriately.”
While commending the NFF for choosing the Stadium as venue for football tournaments, Governor Okowa stated, “we are a very peaceful people, very caring and we look forward to your coming to Delta State particularly in bringing more competitions.” He lauded the NFF for believing in excellence by re-electing Amaju as its President, noting that Amaju, a Deltan is passionate about football.
The Governor also used the occasion to disclose that apart from his administration’s commitment to providing world-class sporting facilities, the Principals’ Cup have been revived for secondary school students while annual Headmaster’s Cup competition for pupils of all the primary schools in the state has also, been initiated for sporting talents to be discovered early, adding that plans have been concluded for athletics championships to be organized for schools to enable the state continuously maintain its leading roles in sports championship in the country.