Akwa snap Plateau unbeaten streak in NPFL as continental campaigners excel
Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) clubs were involved in both domestic and continental competition this past weekend. Rangers, Rivers United, Wikki Tourists and FC Ifeanyi Ubah all had CAF Champions League exertions to handle, resulting in a smaller schedule of domestic games.
Here are three observations from a busy weekend:
Akwa snap Plateau unbeaten streak
Top-of-the-table Plateau United travelled to strugglers Akwa United carrying the league's last remaining unbeaten streak this season.
After Akwa's dodgy start to the campaign, including two home draws and three losses, there was more than a little trepidation about the visit of Plateau, whose run of previous road results included one victory and two draws, conceding just one goal in the process. The fear was justified because not only had Akwa only scored two goals in their three home matches, they'd also given one up.
So it was more than a relief when Christian Pyagbara employed some fancy footwork to breach the much vaunted Plateau defence within the opening six minutes.
Respite turned to unbridled joy when Alhassan Ibrahim added a second on 50 minutes and not just because of the scoreline, but also for the quality of the goal. The build-up involved a total of 16 Akwa passes and almost 30 seconds without a Plateau player getting a sniff of the ball as it was pinged around their area. A sharp lay-off allowed Ibrahim to rifle a superb effort into the left-sided angle of the goal. Neither John Gaadi, nor any other goalkeeper for that matter, could have done anything about the strike, such was the quality of the finish.
If Akwa thought they had the game in the bag, Plateau had other ideas. Substitute Chima Ndukwu stunned the home side with a surprise, bended toe poke from outside the box and between two defenders with all of 30 minutes to play.
That set the nerves jangling again and when Joshua Obaje stung keeper Emmanuel Iwu's palms from around six yards out, there was a feeling of collective despair. But, in the end, Akwa did enough to hold on for a 2-1 win.
It's interesting how it took the league's bottom club to snap the unbeaten streak of the top team.
Katsina stars earn Eagles call-ups after Lobi display
You never know who might be watching.
Katsina United stars Ashadi Destiny and Timothy Danlami were particularly eye-catching as their club played out a goalless draw at Lobi Stars' somewhat remote Makurdi grounds.
They were not to know that assistant Nigeria national team coach Salisu Yusuf, who is also in charge of the CHAN Super Eagles (the de facto B side), was in the stands on the day.
During the encounter, midfielder Destiny and defender Danladi were immediately marked down for call-ups soon after the game.
"Destiny was impressive in midfield," said Yusuf. "He knows what to do at any point in time during the game.
"For the central defender, he was simply unbeatable. I have followed him since he trained with the Olympic team last year and I'm happy to see he has stayed consistent."
Nigeria's CHAN Super Eagles will play the winner of the preliminary-round playoff between Togo and Benin for a place at the African Nations Cup for players playing in their domestic leagues.
Wikki blot copybook of continental sides
Only six games were played last weekend in the NPFL because four clubs were involved in continental matches. Three of the four played away from home, with just FC Ifeanyi Ubah hosting their clash.
Champions Rangers opened the weekend with a 1-1 draw on Friday at JS Saoura of Algeria. Bobby Clement needed just six minutes to restore parity after Abderrahmane Bourdim gave Saoura the lead for their first-ever goal in the CAF Champions League.
Rivers United followed suit a day later with a 0-0 draw in Mali at Real Bamako. On Sunday, it was the turn of FC Ifeanyi Ubah, who secured a nervy, late win at home against Egyptian heavyweights Al Masry in the CAF Confederations Cup.
Tamen Medrano scored the only goal with barely two minutes to spare. Although the result leaves Ifeanyi Ubah walking a tightrope ahead of the second leg, at least it was one for the win column. Which is more than we can say for Wikki Tourists, who were handily beaten 2-0 by Sierra Leone's Royal Armed Forces in Freetown.
It means Wikki, who have played two previous games in the competition, are still waiting for their first win.
That was the only stain on an otherwise near perfect copybook for Nigeria's continental campaigners and could prove a huge blow to their ambitions of progress.
Colin Udoh is a Nigeria football correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ColinUdoh.