The setting is the semi-final matches which have pitched former African Champions, Enyimba FC of Aba against CAF Confederation Cup contenders Bayelsa United of Yenagoa and former F.A Cup winners, Lobi Stars of Makurdi against never die Sharks FC of Port-Harcourt. While Enyimba versus Bayelsa cracker will take place today at the Dan Anyiam stadium, Lobi Stars will do battle with Coach Kadiri Ikhana’s Sharks tomorrow at the same venue.
What is today known as the Federation Cup was created in 1945 as the “Governor’s Cup”, succeeding the War Memorial Challenge Cup that had been limited to teams from Lagos. For a greater part of its existence, it came to be known as F.A Cup or challenge Cup as it was popularly called. It has remained the main football single elimination tournament in the country.
To get to this stage, the four clubs went through serious competition as they battled against known and unknown football foes who threatened to end their ambition of winning the first Federation trophy which is up for grab. While Enyimba survived the centre of death as Jalingo centre was dubbed by football pundits to go ahead and pick the semi-final ticket at the expense of hard fighting 3SC FC of Ibadan, their opponents in the first semi-finals, Bayelsa United who qualified from the Abeokuta Centre went on to win their quarter final match against defending champions Ocean Boys. On the other hand, against all odds, Lobi Stars of Makurdi who started the campaign on a shaky note having lost 0-1 to newly promoted Dolphins of Port-Harcourt recovered from the shock defeat to pip Enyimba 1-0 and Rangers FC 1-0 to top the group. The Makudi based team went on to eliminate national league club and former winner of the Challenge Cup, El-Kanemi Warriors of Maiduguri 1-0. Meanwhile, Lobi Stars opponents in the second semi-final match, Sharks FC knocked out Nassarawa United FC to remain in contention.
Enyimba which can be considered to be the most successful club in Nigeria by virtue of its back to back victories in the CAF Champions League in 2003 and 2004 is also a past winner of the then Challenge Cup in 2005 when they beat this year’s semi-finalist Lobi Stars by 6-5 on penalities. As the Aba Warriors aim to win their second title as far as the competition is concerned, they will have to first surmount the obstacle which comes in form of another ambitious club known as Bayelsa United. It promises to be a cracker because as winners of the just concluded Globacom Premier League and serious contenders for the CAF Confederation Cup, Bayesla United are certainly aiming at a treble and would not allow anything to stand in their way. Surely, they would not like to over respect Enyimba which no doubt parades intimidating pedigree both on the local scene and the continent. Chief Coach of Bayesla United and Eaglets assistant coach, Monday Odigie speaking ahead of today’s encounter told Trustsports that his team will like to go all the way to the finals of Nigeria’s most prestigious competition. He noted that Enyimba is a serious threat to his team’s ambition but the full ninety minutes would determine who picks the ticket for finals. “Considering my players recent form, I have no doubt in my mind that we would come out victorious. We are aiming to beat Enyimba because no team goes into a match with defeat in mind. Our target is the ticket that will take us into the finals” he stated
Most football fans are of the opinion that the standard of this year’s competition is indeed very high. It is said it is an indication that the domestic league is gradually developing to catch up with other football leagues across the globe. Former Super Eagles star and General Manager of 3SC of Ibadan, Mr. Mutiu Adepoju is one of those who believe the standard of this year’s Federation cup is indeed high. “It is a pity there is no sponsor for the Federation Cup this year, but everybody is playing well, I have seen a lot of good players and the standard of play by the teams is also encouraging and that is to say the Nigerian league has improved and we are happy for it”,
If all the clubs live up to pre-match analysis, the matches will certainly be thrillers. Sharks versus Lobi Stars, Enyimba versus Bayelsa United should not produce dull moments so Owerri football fans must be ready to cheer breath taking football artistries from ambitious players today and tomorrow.