The Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) Invitational scheduled to kick off at the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano today is expected to provide the six teams competing with the chance to have one final chance at oiling their machines before the competitive season begins in January.
NPFL champions Plateau United, last season’s runners-up MFM FC, seven-time champions Enyimba and currently AITEO Cup holders Akwa United will be joined by hosts and four-time champions Kano Pillars and the Home-based Eagles billed to participate in next year’s African Nations Championship (CHAN) in the pre-season tournament.
Prior to the NPFL Invitational, Akwa United, Enyimba, Kano Pillars, Plateau United and MFM have been very busy with pre-season games across the country. Title holders Plateau United have had an underwhelming performance in their pre-season games so far, losing to Kano Pillars and promoted Kwara United.
Akwa United, Enyimba, Kano Pillars and MFM have racked up decent results in pre-season and their managers will look to continue in same stead in this dress rehearsal before the season kicks off on January 14.
One of the managers, Paul Aigbogun, was recently appointed to take charge at Enyimba. It is a return for Aigbogun and he has the task of building a team to compete in the NPFL, AITEO Cup and CAF Confederation Cup next year. Already, the Peoples Elephant have brought in new players in Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Chinedu Udeagha, Abdulrahman Bashir, Austine Oladapo, Yinka Onaolapo, Wasiu Alalade as well as Ghanaian Farouk Mohammed.
Head coach of AITEO Cup winners, Abdu Maikaba, is already planning for the possible absence of his key players who could feature in the CHAN next month. Etim Matthew, Ajibola Otegbeye, Kelly Kester, Adesina Gata, Dennis Nya and Gabriel Wassa are among the new signings at the Promise Keepers.
MFM moved quick in the off-season to replace Stephen Odey with Victor Mbaoma from Remo Stars and the young striker is showing signs of promise as he scored three times in pre-season. Mbaoma’s teammate at Remo Stars, Oche Salefu also joined the Olukoya Boys but is doubtful for the opening game against Akwa United on Monday. The Olukoya Boys also have Wilfred Ammeh and ex-Warri Wolves striker Zinte Udeh for the tournament.
Kano Pillars are beginning to look like Enyimba as they added petite midfielder Nzube Anaezemba and Ibrahim Mustapha to their playing personnel. They already have ex-Enyimba players in Chinedu Udoji, Emmanuel Anyanwu, Sikiru Kamal and Idris Aloma.
Amos Gyang, Charles Henlong, Rafael Ayagwa, Tosin Omoyele, King Osanga, Ibrahim Akide and goalkeeper Okiemute Odah have all teamed up with the league champions for the new campaign. Surely there will be competition for places for some of Plateau United’s top performers as their head coach Kennedy Boboye seeks to find the right balance in their title defence and on the continent.
Plateau United will begin to have the feel and pressure that comes with being champions of one of the most difficult championship in the world when they face Enyimba in the opening game of the tournament. The champions and Enyimba also have the Super Eagles to contend with in Group A of the NPFL Invitational.
The other two teams to represent Nigeria in CAF competitions Akwa United and MFM FC will go head to head today in the second game of Match-day 1. Kano Pillars who have failed to hit the heights of 2012, 2013 and 2014 when they won the league complete Group B as one of the teams invited alongside the Super Eagles for the tournament.
Talk of the Super Eagles, they regroup for the first time since finishing as losing finalists at the WAFU Cup of Nations to Ghana in September. Their head coach Salisu Yusuf has named a 30-man squad for this tournament and at least 18 of the players will be drawn from the five clubs taking part in the NPFL Invitational.
The CHAN preparation for the Super Eagles starts as they have been drawn in Group C of the tournament alongside Libya, Rwanda and Equatorial Guinea. Yusuf knows this will form a good test for his team ahead of the African championship in Morocco.
“This is a good opportunity for us to play in matches and see how the players will react,” Yusuf said.