After two weeks of waiting, on Wednesday, October 24th, it was finally time for the 2018 Aiteo Cup final at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba. The finalists were Enugu Rangers and Kano Pillars. The Rangers nicknamed the Flying Antelopes beat the Solid Miners, Nasarawa United to reach the final. Kano Pillars or the Masu Gida defeated Katsina United to book their place in the big final. The last time Enugu Rangers won the Cup was in 1983, while the Kano Pillars were hoping this would be their maiden win.
The Pillars opened the match the stronger and were 1:0 up in the fifth minute. Rabiu Ali latched onto a good pass from Nyima Nwagua and put the ball past the Rangers goalkeeper with a great shot. That gave them the confidence to carry on attacking and it paid off in the 20th minute when Ibrahim Alassan scored from a corner kick with some help from the unfortunate Rangers keeper Femi Thomas. The score at the break was 2:0 to the Kano Pillars.
Shortly after the beginning of the second half, Nyima Nwagua managed to score a goal giving the Pillars a massive 3:0 lead. The Rangers could only try to attack and hope for a miracle. They didn’t give up and in the 77th minute, Kelvin Itoya, who came in as a substitute in the 2nd half, scored a brilliant goal to make the score 3:1. This lifted the Rangers players up and five minutes later they brought the score down to 3:2, courtesy of Chidera Ezeh. The Flying Antelopes were flying now. It was all or nothing for them and finally, in time added on, they managed to break down a tired looking Pillars side to equalize and perform one of the biggest ever comebacks in Nigerian football history, and in just 15 minutes. Ajani Ibrahim was the brave scorer.
Since it was all square after 90 minutes, the game had to be decided via a penalty shootout. Rabiu Ali, who scored the first goal for the Pillars, missed the first penalty and it was all downhill from then on. Ola Jimoh missed his penalty and in the meantime, the Antelopes were 100% sure from the spot. In the end, Enugu Rangers won the shootout 4:2 to become Aiteo Cup Champions after a 35 year drought.
After the game, the Rangers fans proclaimed the game as the “Miracle of Asaba”. Lifting this Cup also means that they will be flying Nigeria’s flag in the 2019 CAF Confederations Cup. For the moment though, they will spend some time savouring this huge success.