Rangers Are Champions Again After 35 Years

Ugonna Uzochukwu in aerial action for Rangers against Pillars today PIX KABIRU ABUBAKAR

Duro Ikhazuagbe

Enugu Rangers pulled the most remarkable feat in Nigeria’s club football history on Wednesday coming back from 3-0 down to beat Kano Pillars 4-2 in penalty shootout to win the 2018 Aiteo Cup. It is Rangers sixth FA Cup triumph.

Playing the first official game at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba yesterday, the Flying Antelopes proved that a football game was not really over until the final whistle. The victory is Rangers first Cup glory since 1983.

In the last 15 minutes of the epic final, Coach Gbenga Ogunbote and his wards did a turnaround that even the former Nigerian captain who the stadium is named after will be smiling in his grave.

When almost everyone at the stadium was waiting for the Sai Masu Gida to be crowned champions of the 2018 edition of Nigeria’s cup final, KelvIn Itoya’s screamer in the 77th that beat Pillars goalkeeper, David Obiozo appears more of a consolation goal.

But five minutes later, Chidera Ezeh made it 3-2. That goal brought hope of miracle was on the way. And it did happen when substitute Ajani Ibrahim’s diving header restored parity for Rangers at 3-3.

In the ensuing shootout, effervescent Kano Pillars midfielder, Rabiu Ali, who scored the opening goal in regulation time, missed his opening penalty. And former Pillars player, Isaac Loute, handed the trophy to Rangers with his last penalty for the arena to erupt in the Holy, Holy, Holy anthem of the Enugu team.

Kano Pillars had taken the lead after five minutes after they had survived an early scare by Rangers.

Big striker Nwagua Nyima used his body to get into the box before he laid the ball for skipper Rabiu Ali to rifle home.

Pillars doubled their lead in the 20th minute, when Flying Eagles midfielder Alassan Ibrahim scored directly from the corner kick.

A third goal by Kano Pillars was cancelled in first half stoppage as television replays later showed the goal should have stood as Isaac Loute was the one who put the ball into his own net.

In between these goals, Pillars star striker Junior Lokosa missed two open chances, while Rangers had at least three chances to score from free kicks in dangerous positions, but they wasted them.

With this victory, Rangers earned the N25million star prize at stake and the bragging right to represent Nigeria in next year’s CAF Confederation Cup.

The Flying Antelopes had two years ago ended the club’s 32 years wait for the league title.