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Bayelsa United defies odds to claim maiden Aiteo Cup crown

Bayelsa defeats fourth NPFL opponent to emerge as champions

Bayelsa United defeated Nasarawa United 4-3 on penalties in front of a partisan crowd at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City to claim the 2021 Aiteo Cup title and sensationally secure a place in next season’s CAF Confederation Cup.­

NNL side Bayelsa United was facing one of the top sides in the just-concluded NPFL season in Nasarawa United. Nasarawa United needed the win to secure a spot in continental football after they fell out of the qualification spots following a defeat on the final day of the 2020/21 NPFL season. Bayelsa United started the game in a fearless manner and got the game’s opener as Okardi Inikurogha opened the scoring in the 19th minute. The lead lasted mere seconds as veteran striker Chinedu Ohanachom equalised for the Solid Miners shortly after the game was restarted. Aliyu Abdullahi took matters into his own hands and put the Solid Miners in front for the first time in the 26th minute. Bayelsa United refused to stay down, and Emo James headed home an equaliser for them in the 35th minute to level matters once again before the end of the first half.

The second half of the encounter saw both sets of players continue to slug it out for supremacy in the rain in Benin, with neither team able to edge out the other. With the game seemingly heading to penalties, Bayelsa United coach Diepreye Teibowei and Nasarawa United coach Bala Nkiyu substituted their goalkeepers to give their respective sides an edge in the forthcoming shootout. The change paid off immediately for the NNL side as substitute goalkeeper Ebikabowei Consul saved the first penalty of the shootout, setting the tone for an eventual 4-3 win for the underdogs in front of a deafening pro-Bayelsa United crowd in Benin.

Bayelsa United has added the scalp of Nasarawa United to the scalps of Rangers, Lobi Stars and Rivers United that they claimed en route to reaching the final. They have now won their first-ever Aiteo Cup title after 20 years of existence as a professional club. The victorious 2021 Aiteo Cup campaign makes Bayelsa United only the second lower division side to claim the title after the defunct Dolphins FC achieved the feat in 2011.

Nasarawa United has seen their season end in heartbreak following their final day defeat in the NPFL that saw them finish in fourth place and narrowly miss out on a place in the CAF Confederation Cup. Bayelsa United will now take home the tournament’s prize money of 25 million naira and represent Nigeria in next season’s CAF Confederation Cup.

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