The grand finale of this year’s NFF-TINGO Federation Cup men and women competitions will take place at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba on Wednesday, and the Delta State capital is already on tenterhooks for the two big encounters.
The last time they were here for the Federation Cup finale, Rivers Angels emerged victorious. That was in 2018. The girls from Port Harcourt are riding on confidence from that history and are walking a few inches taller on the Asaba roads.
Their opponents are Bayelsa Queens, who also have history and confidence of their own. The last time there was a Federation Cup grand finale, Bayelsa Queens defeated FC Robo Queens of Lagos at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin City to emerge champions.
In fact, that day belonged to Bayelsa State. Bayelsa United triumphed in the men’s final against Nasarawa United, winning 4-3 on penalties after the game was locked at 2-2 at the end of regulation time. That was in 2021.
On Wednesday, the best women teams in Nigeria will slug it out to decide the best of the best in an ambience guaranteed to be enthralling and capitavating. Bayelsa Queens and Rivers Angels are the teams that have represented Nigeria in the relatively-new CAF Women’s Champions League competition, as a measure of their strength. The women’s final match will commence at 2pm.
In the men’s final, multi-titlists Rangers International of Enugu will take on Bendel Insurance of Benin from 5pm.
Bendel Insurance and Rangers International clashed in the final of the competition in 1978 and 1981, with a win for each team.
Insurance will rather remember the 1978 final, which stunned fans who trooped to the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos that afternoon. Insurance’s only win in the competition previously was in 1972, when they needed a replay to defeat Sam Garba Okoye-inspired Mighty Jets to claim the title.
Rangers were the ‘happening team’ of the mid-70s in Nigeria, winning the oldest and most glamorous football championship consecutively in 1974, 1975 and 1976. In 1977, Rangers International won the Africa Cup Winners Cup. So, it was a team riding on high waves.
Though they could not defend their title in 1977, losing to IICC Shooting Stars, the ‘Flying Antelopes’ were back in the final in 1978.
Clear favourites to reclaim the trophy, the Coal City giants were poleaxed 3-0, with Peter Egharevba scoring the first goal from a long-range free-kick.
They got their revenge in 1981, also at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos. Okuchukwu Obiora and Ifeanyi Onyedika, a member of the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations-winning Green Eagles, scored to hand the ‘Benin Arsenal’ a 2-0 defeat and return the trophy back to Enugu.
On Wednesday in Asaba, Insurance will have the services of midfielder Divine Nwachukwu – one of only two outfield players from the NPFL who were part of the Super Eagles’ qualification for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations with a 3-2 of Sierra Leone in Liberia on Sunday.
Governor Sheriff Oborevwori, who is celebrating his diamond jubilee anniversary (60th birthday), is expected at the arena alongside a number of commissioners and heads of parastatals and agencies, to add pomp to the finale of the biggest and oldest football championship in the land.
President of Nigeria Football Federation, Alhaji Ibrahim Musa Gusau, NFF Board Members, the Executive Chairman of the Delta State Sports Commission, Chief Tonobok Okowa, NFF General Secretary, Dr. Mohammed Sanusi and chieftains of TINGO will lead other dignitaries.