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Moonda: Clouds still hang over Ghana

ANC Sep 7, 2014
Read
Aug 18, 2014

Abia derby thrills Nigerian fans

Enyimba parade around their Confederation of African Football Super Cup trophy during the club's first reign of success, from 2002 to 2004.

While English football fans enjoyed the return of the Premier League over the weekend and Spain begins a weeklong countdown to the start of its domestic season, African football fans' fix was uninterrupted. It even reached a climax of sorts on Sunday when Nigeria's Abia derby produced a six-goal thriller.

The rivalry between Enyimba and Abia Warriors may not be as well-known as London's many local matchups or garner as much interest as El Clasico, but the Abia Clasico is just as storied. The teams are closely matched in more than just geography and went into the fixture at fourth and fifth in the league, separated only by goal difference. They came out in exactly the same way.

Abia Warriors took the lead through a penalty six minutes into the encounter after which Enyimba launched relentless waves of attack, resulting in a spot kick of their own. Warriors regained the lead through Ifeanyi Onyeali, and Enyimba responded at the half-hour mark when Uwadiegwu Ugwu netted. The 2-2 scoreline took them into the break.

Enyimba went in front for the first time when Rasheed Olabiyi was left unmarked and unleashed what was thought to be the winner, but Chikatara Chisom was having none of that. He toe-poked the final goal of the game to resounding applause and completed a set of results Abia Warriors will be immensely proud of against Enyimba.

In the second week of the season, Abia Warriors stunned Enyimba when they subjected them to a rare home defeat and remain nipping at their neighbour's heels as the title race enters its final third. Wherever Abia Warriors end up, this season has been a testament to their pluckiness, and they need only revisit the two Enyimba games for proof of that.

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Abia Warriors are without doubt the smaller brother in the matchup. They were promoted to the Nigeria Premier League just last August and have given an account of themselves that suggests there may be more than one giant in the southeastern province of the country from now on.

For the past 13 years, that giant has been Enyimba. They began life as a lower-tier premiership side that finished their first season 13th in the 16-team tournament but benefited hugely from funding provided by the Abia State governor, Orji Uzor Kalu. He is listed among Nigeria's 21 richest people by Forbes, and his cash injection propelled Enyimba to title glory shortly after he took office in 1999.

In 2001, they became champions for the first time and were rewarded with an upgrade to their stadium. When Enyimba won the title again in 2002, which qualified them to play in the CAF Champions League, they applied to host matches at their home venue, which they believed would be of the required standard. It was. In the two years after that, Enyimba were crowned African champions twice and went on to win the Nigerian Premier League four more times to take their total number of local titles to six.

All this may sound like it gives them an obvious advantage against a side like Abia Warriors, but that is not the case. Abia are also funded by Kalu and even played as Orji Uzor Kalu FC until 2010 to honour the man with the money. At that stage, they were not playing in the top flight, but now that they are, the state's governor may face a tricky choice between which of his two teams he will continue to back. He may decide that he can spread the riches between them.

If he does, Nigeria's Abia derby, which already produced one of the most watchable matches of the season, could gain its own legendary status. It's already attracted the presence of some of the country's showbiz stars from Nollywood and may have registered on the radar of football watchers around the world because of the eye-catching result. It's not quite an EPL or La Liga derby, but the comparisons to those two have already begun.

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