Niger Tornadoes will go toe to toe with Rivers United on Thursday as both clubs seek to reach the 2019 AITEO Cup final.
The semi-final will be decided at the ‘Soccer Temple’, the Agege Stadium, Lagos and kickoff has been fixed for 3 pm.
Thursday’s contest exemplifies the classic winner-takes-it-all clash as the victor will very likely have more than bragging rights to show if success is secured at the Center of Excellence.
The Tornado gathers momentum
Niger Tornadoes had a Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season to forget.
The Minna club suffered relegation to the second tier of Nigerian football after finishing in 11th place in Group A of the abridged NPFL season with 21 points from 22 matches.
Redemption was therefore required and the ‘Ikon Allah’ duly trained their sights on the AITEO Cup and have made important inroads in this year’s competition.
A routine 3-0 win over unheralded Fasbir FC 3-0 in the round of 64 was followed by a difficult 1-0 win over Gombe United in the round of 32.
Things then began to get a bit complicated for the Tornadoes club as Cynosure FC forced them to a 2-2 draw in their round of 16 clash at the Aper Aku Stadium, Makurdi.
Tornadoes prevailed after a nervy shootout but giant killers, Smart City lay in wait in the quarter finals.
After a pulsating battle that finished 0-0, Tornadoes squeezed through 5-4 on penalties to book a date with Rivers United in the last four.
Tornadoes; the style
Tornadoes have a style inherent on building up attacks via quick possession through the middle with coach Abubakar Bala (the third coach Tornadoes have hired this season) favoring a 4-3-3 formation.
Bala has managed just two games for Tornadoes (the penalty shootout wins over Cynosure FC and Smart City FC) this term.
The wins for the Minna club over Fasbir FC and Gombe United in the rounds of 64 and 32 were masterminded by Ahmed Nuhu who was in interim charge for Tornadoes’ first two matches of the competition.
the country and in Thursday, we will play a very serious game with the aim of reaching the final,” he said.
The ‘Pride of Rivers’ have long dispelled notions that they are not a high scoring team.
They had hit nine goals at the round of 16 stage of the competition.
FC Timberloader was the first to feel the might of United as they received a 4-0 hiding in the round of 64 in Lafia.
Then came the ‘Masterclass of Enugu’ where pre-tournament favourites, Akwa United were dismissed 3-0 in a one-sided round of 32 fixture decided at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium.
Warri Wolves were the next to fall, in the round of 16, as United cruised to a routine 2-0 win at the Samson Siasia Stadium, Yenagoa.
It was always going to be tough in the semi-final when United faced Nigeria’s representatives in the 2019 CAF Champions League, Lobi Stars.
Lobi, full of important individuals like Olufemi Kayode, Ebube Duru, Dare Ojo, Kadiri Samad, Sikiri Alimi and Ezekiel Mbah, was never going to be easy fodder.
The battle between the two sides at the Dipo Dina International Stadium, was one for the ages and eventually, United – the hungrier of the two sides – sealed the win with a penalty shootout win where unheralded goalkeeper, Darlington Ovunda shone like a million stars.
Now, United have one more hurdle to overcome and experienced Technical Manager, Stanley Eguma says only a serious approach will see the ‘Pride of Rivers’ reach the final.
“Niger Tornadoes is a very good side and we respect them a lot. We met them twice in the league and did not lose any of those games but this is a completely different competition.
“My players know what is at stake and everyone here will give a hundred percent.
“Having come this far, we will give everything to qualify for the final and I am very confident we will do it,” he said.