Rivers United, Enyimba, Others Secure Naija Super 8 Finals Tickets
By Modupe Gbadeyanka
The current winner of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), Enyimba International of Aba, has joined others to clinch the tickets for the Naija Super 8 Finals.
Enyimba edged Heartland 1-0 in a cagy Oriental Derby on Sunday after opening the scoring in the 25th minute through Murphy Ndukwe.
The People’s Elephant had a chance to double their lead in the 39th minute but fluffed their lines from close range. Heartland pushed for the equaliser and drew another fine save from Enyimba goalkeeper, Olorunkeke Ojo in the 43rd minute.
Earlier in the day, Yobe Stars dominated the opening stanza of the Northeast derby with their crisp passing. The Desert Stars drew a brilliant save from Gombe United goalkeeper with a long-range freekick in the 21st minute and hit the bar nine minutes later.
Gombe United were uncoordinated, especially in the final third and were duly punished on 40 minutes by Tony Elaigwu, whose close- control allowed him to elude his marker before poking the ball into the net. The Desert Stars kept the momentum and were rewarded with another goal by Shuaibu Adamu in the 45th minute.
Gombe United began the second half on the front foot and were rewarded for their effort when Ogunjimi Samuel converted a free header from close range in the 54th minute. The NPFL side pushed desperately for the equaliser, but their task became more difficult after Sadiq Shuaibu was sent off in the 82nd minute. The ten men almost snatched a late equaliser but were denied by a goal-line clearance.
In another game, the Nigeria National League (NNL) side, Katsina United, and an NPFL side, Rivers United have clinched the last two slots in the Naija Super 8 finals after securing victories in their zonal play-off matches on Sunday.
Katsina United defeated Kano Pillars 1-0 in the battle for the North-West ticket, while Rivers United beat Bendel Insurance 3-2 to nick the ticket for the South-South geo-political zone at the Eket Township Stadium on Sunday.
United and Pillars fought a long-drawn battle until Samson Souley beat a poorly set offside trap and kept his composure to find the net. In the goalless first half, Pillars fashioned the first chance in the ninth minute, United’s Kolimba Alladoom stood up to Pillars’ Kokoette Udoh.
United responded shortly after when at 17 minutes, Yahaya Nazifi produced a decent half-volley that drew a brilliant save from Joshua Enaholo in Pillars’ goal. A veteran midfielder, Rabiu Ali, hit a long-range freekick in the 27th minute, which Enaholo well handled.
Ten minutes later, Ali drew another save from the goalkeeper with a rocket shot from 35 metres. United continued to look the more dangerous side at the break as well as in the second half, which saw them fashion the first big chance of the match in the 63rd minute, but Souley somehow missed an open goal from six yards.
Four minutes later, Emmanuel Junior hit the upright with a long-range shot as United mounted the pressure, which eventually yielded a dividend in the 84th minute to break Pillars.
In the following five-goal thriller, the 2022 NPFL champions took the lead against the 2023 FA Cup winners in the 10th minute through Albert Korvah. Monghara Dede drew Insurance level from the penalty spot in the 45th minute.
Korvah restored Rivers United’s lead early in the second half, tapping home from close range in the 50th minute after a smooth passing move cut the Bendel Insurance defence open. Rivers United had good opportunities to extend their lead in the 56th and 61st minutes but failed to make them count.
Ten minutes later, substitute, Okon Ini-Obong restored parity with a sumptuous volley from the edge of the box. Just as the match looked set for penalties, Rivers United were gifted a late penalty in the 90th minute after a clumsy challenge in the box by Daniel Ogungbe. Morice Chukwu converted the penalty to seal the victory.
The six zonal champions, Katsina United, Lobi Stars, Enyimba, Remo Stars, Yobe Desert Stars and Rivers United, will be joined by two wildcard teams to be picked by the tournament organisers.
Draws for the Naija Super 8 finals will be held on June 29, live on SuperSport, while the tournament will be held at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena in Lagos from July 7-16.
Flykite Productions organise Naija Super 8 in partnership with MultiChoice Nigeria and sponsors, MTN, Hero Lager, DStv, GOtv, SuperSport, Moniepoint, Pepsi and Custodian Assurance.