The Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba had a carnival-like atmosphere ahead of the 2018 Aiteo Cup final on Wednesday, contested by traditional powerhouses Enugu Rangers and Kano Pillars.
Dignitaries, including state governors from Delta and Enugu States, the Deputy Governor of Kano State, and the top brass of the Nigeria Football Federation, graced the match, while A-list entertainers thrilled the spectators attending the conclusion of the Nigeria Cup, sponsored for a second year running by energy giants Aiteo.
Befittingly, it was the first football game played on the lush green natural grass, and it took only five minutes for Rabiu Ali of Kano Pillars to score the first goal at the venue, the veteran midfielder’s sixth of the competition.
Pillars’ quick-fire start suggested the 2018 final was going to be headlined by numerous talking points, and that was indeed the case. Rangers played the game of their lives in the final 13 minutes to find an unlikely route back from a three-goal deficit in a six-goal thriller, clinching a sixth Cup title in the ensuing penalty shootout.
The final would probably rank as one of the greatest comebacks in Nigerian football history, as it got fans engaging on social media, despite the game being played on a work day.
The above scenario could fit the description of a perfectly organised tournament, but that was far from the truth for a competition which was hurriedly put together in less than two months, to enable Nigeria to register its representative for the 2019 CAF Confederation Cup.