The fairytale journey of NNL side Bayelsa United in the 2020/21 Aiteo Cup has resulted in their reaching the final of the competition after securing a shock 1-0 victory over Rivers United at the Soccer Temple in Agege. The NNL side will face Nasarawa United in the final after the Solid Miners defeated Sunshine Stars on penalties.
Bayelsa United were faced with the improbable task of trying to eliminate one of the top-ranked sides in the NPFL when they were drawn against Rivers United in the semifinal of the Aiteo Cup. At the Soccer Temple in Agege, both sides cancelled each other out as they approached the match warily, with neither side registering a shot in the entirety of the first half. The match came to life in the second half as Bayelsa United took the game to their illustrious opponents and were rewarded in the 66th minute when a strike from Okardi Inikurogha flew past the Rivers United goalkeeper on its way to the back of the net to put the underdogs one goal up. Rivers United rallied and were awarded a penalty when Joseph Onoja was upended in the box. Bayelsa United keeper John Shuaibu saved Bamba Bakary’s weakly-struck penalty in the 78th minute to preserve his side’s lead. The NNL side held on to secure a famous victory and book their place in the final of the 2021 Aiteo Cup.
In the other semifinal played at the Ozoro Poly Stadium in Delta, Nasarawa United edged Sunshine Stars 6-5 on penalties after their match ended 2-2 in regulation time. Just days after hammering the Akure Gunners 4-0 in the NPFL, Nasarawa United were faced with a different type of challenge in the knockout tie. They took the lead through star striker Silas Nwankwo from the penalty spot in the 32nd minute of the clash before Fuad Ekelojuoti equalised for the Akure Gunners shortly after the commencement of the second half. The Solid Miners went back in front through experienced striker Chinedu Ohanachom in the 64th minute before academy product Kolade Adeniji headed home a 93rd-minute equaliser to force penalties. Nasarawa United kept their cool as they scored six penalties to Sunshine Stars’ five to secure the second final ticket.
This year’s Aiteo Cup final will hold on August 8th at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City, and would produce a first-time winner as both sides have never won the competition. Both sides have performed admirably well this season, with Bayelsa United knocking out top-flight sides Rangers, Lobi Stars and Rivers United en route to reaching the final. Nasarawa United, on the other hand, have had arguably their best season ever under experienced coach Bala Nikyu as they are in second place in the NPFL and in the final of the Aiteo Cup. The final promises to be a show of fireworks with the trophy and continental ticket at stake in the match.