Kano Pillars, Enugu Rangers set for Aiteo Cup showdown
Five-time Nigeria cup champions Enugu Rangers meet Kano Pillars in Wednesday's Aiteo Cup final at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba, with the winner securing a spot in the 2019 CAF Confederation Cup.
The Flying Antelopes will be desperate to end their hoodoo and win their first cup in 35 years, but they have a recent track record of falling at the final hurdle, having been defeated finalists three times since the turn of the millennium.
Despite Pillars' dominance in the NPFL, notably over the past decade, Sai Masu Gida will play in only their second cup final in 27 years.
Pillars have netted 16 times in the competition to date, but despite the form of NPFL top scorer Junior Lokosa and his partner Nyima Nwagua, it's veteran midfielder Rabiu Ali who leads the goalscoring charts with five strikes.
The Kano State Government, Pillars' sponsors, has being proactive in its bid to inspire the team to a first cup triumph.
To this end, the team were relocated to Benin City at the weekend for closed camping to enable maximum concentration ahead of the match, while plans are in place to mobilise massive support from Kano to Asaba for Wednesday's showdown.
The sponsors have also ensured that all previously unpaid match bonuses and allowances to the team have been settled.
"It's a big boost for the team as we prepare for the Aiteo Cup final against Enugu Rangers on Wednesday," said club Media Officer Idris Malikawa, as per the Guardian.
"All the allowances and bonuses owed the team, amounting to N7 million, have been cleared and no one is owed in the club now."
Both teams' runs to the final have been characterised by comeback victories, doggedness and high-scoring fixtures, although that trend might not continue on Wednesday, with the last two finals decided on penalties following scoreless draws.
Rangers, inspired by coach Gbenga Ogunbote, and two-goal hero Ugonna Uzochukwu, earned a sensational 4-2 comeback win against Nasarawa United in the semi-final, after trailing by two-goals.
The result justified the Flying Antelopes' quarter-final elimination of defending champions Akwa United on penalties, a game which saw them level up through Okey Odita's header after falling behind to the Promise Keepers in the first-half.
While Rangers dug deep to progress from the final four, Pillars made things slightly complicated against Katsina United, throwing away a two-goal lead before holding their nerves to emerge victorious in the penalty shootout.
The North-West semi-final derby win (a four-goal thriller in regulation time) was another high-scoring victory for Pillars following triumphs against Ugwa FC (3-2), Rivers United (3-2) and Enyimba (4-2).
The stakes are high ahead of the eagerly anticipated fixture, with the winner not only afforded an opportunity to create history, but to claim the prize money and ultimately earn a ticket as Nigeria's second continental representatives in 2019.