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Aiteo Cup semi finals: Who are favourites for the title?

Following a series of thrilling quarter finals in the Aiteo Cup, we're down to the final four, as the teams still standing in the competition compete for the chance to represent Nigeria in the 2019 CAF Confederation Cup.

Kano Pillars, Enugu Rangers, Nasarawa United and Katsina United are set to contest the semi finals, which kick off on Wednesday, in this fascinating battle between the old guard and the emerging forces in Nigerian football.

Five-time champions Rangers are billed to tackle Nasarawa United at the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano, while Pillars, who despite their four domestic league titles have never won the cup, face surprise package, Katsina United in a North West derby at the Agege Stadium in Lagos.

Nasarawa's impressive campaign this year has almost gone unnoticed, as they continue to carry the tag of underdogs. They topped the Aba centre, with a 2-0 final group-stage victory against defending champions Akwa United the high point of their run, and shouldn't be written off.

They already had a taste of the Confederation Cup in 2016, and would surely love to get back among the continent's top sides.

Rangers, coached by Gbenga Ogunbote, can be considered slight favourites heading into the game against the Solid Miners.

This is a combination of their having played all three group-stage and quarter-final matches in Kano, and their superior pedigree in comparison to their modest opponents, whose biggest achievement at this level was a runners-up finish in 2016.

Despite claiming their last Nigeria Cup honours in 1983, the Flying Antelopes have come close in the last 18 years, finishing as runners-up on three different occasions (2000, 2004 and 2007), and will be hoping to secure a sixth title on Sunday.

Particularly keen to end the wait for the gold will be captain Okey Odita, who was a member of the 2004 side that were pipped to the cup by Dolphins at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City.

Now on the verge of hanging up his boots after a distinguished playing career, which included a 2016 league title following a 32-year wait, Odita will be aware that breaking another age-long jinx as captain would cement his place amongst Rangers' legends.

Katsina United, who just completed their second season in the top flight, could be considered overachievers in this year's Aiteo Cup.

They were runners-up to Enyimba from the Gombe centre - ahead of 2017 league champions Plateau United - and delivered a masterclass to see off Kwara United in their quarter final at the Agege Stadium.

The team, coached by Abdullahi Biffo, have no star players within their ranks, but what they lack in terms of a marquee talent, they more than make up for with their outstanding work as a unit.

In two league matches against Pillars this season, Katsina played out four-goal thrillers on both occasions with Destiny Ashadi netting in both the draw and the defeat.

While Ashadi could be the joker in the pack for Katsina, Junior Lokosa is the man who carries the goalscoring burden for Pillars. The 25-year-old netted three of Sai Masu Gida's five goals against Katsina, and is a top contender to increase his tally, having scored three goals during the group matches.

While Pillars' tactical setup is such that the goals never truly dry up for Lokosa, Nyima Nwagua deserves much credit for his selfless work alongside the one-time Nigeria international.

The big Nwagua, scorer of three goals in this season's competition, including a late strike against Enyimba, told KweséESPN he fancies Pillars' chances of progressing to the final.

"It's a derby, so we expect to give everything, and besides its also the semi final, meaning we should expect a tough game," the towering frontman began.

"By the grace of God we should beat [Katsina United] and extend our strong dominance against them," he concluded.

"The entire team believe that, having got to this stage, we can go the entire distance."

Perhaps pedigree and squad depth make the heavyweights favourites to advance in their respective semi-finals, but there have been upsets in the Aiteo Cup so far this season, and the 'underdogs' certainly have enough to trouble the competition's favourites.


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