Oh, that was not meant to happen, that actually happened. In all of the local matches I have been privileged to cover, the 2018 Aiteo Cup final between Rangers Intl and Kano Pillars is unarguably my best game.
Arrived Asaba on Tuesday evening alongside a Kano Pillars fan who came in from Lagos, he had all of Sai Musa Gida souvenirs, I took special interest and interviewed him, that looked like a magic to him and so he decided to pay for my hotel bills and I checked into Peacock Hotel, a 5mins walk to the stadium.
Dropped my luggages and went to the stadium, getting there I nodded my head in approval of the facilities I saw, top notch and pure standard.
The night went with me watching Roma vs CSKA Moscow in my room, good game no doubt.
Game day, woke up to this cold weather in Asaba, so I decided to do a walk out, coffee and bread came through, and surely the cold reduced.
Towards 12pm was the Delta SWAN vs SWAN Selected game which ended 1-1, some NNL officiating in that game though. Match over and we headed straight to the Hampton Hotel for the NFF Annual General Meeting and pick up our media accreditation for the final.
With that sorted, I went back to my hotel, 4pm and I need take my bath and look handsome, just so you know. That went, 4:20pm was the time I took my seat at the media tribune, late comer you want to say?.. No, I am not.
15mins later and the true essence of my Asaba trip started unfolding in my eyes. Yes, I said 15mins, just because the match was signalled underway by Lagos based referee Adebimpe Quadri at 4:35pm.
Kano Pillars started well and little wonder they opened the scoring with just 5mins on the clock, Rabiu Ali – who will later lose his spot kick in the shootout – smashed home a shot just inside the area which clipped the underside of the bar and went in.
1nil Sai Musa Gida but they weren’t done yet as Alhassan Ibrahim scored from a corner kick, yes, you read that right, a corner kick. Femi Thomas in goal for Rangers made a mess of it and suddenly the Flying Antelopes were all over the place. They lacked coordination in defence, lethargic in midfield and uninspiring in attack.
Kano Pillars were the better side as the game ended 2-0 at halftime.
During the 15mins break, Reekado Banks and Phyno thrilled the fans with their respective hit music, the latter gaining so much attention as you know, this is Delta State.
Back to the game for the second 45 and Pillars will start from were they left in the first half, Nyar scored a right footed effort and just as we’ve seen all day Femi Thomas was not up for it and Pillars will race into a 3goal lead. That, was the last we’d see of Femi as Ogunbote substituted him for Ghanian Nana Bonsu. Also in was Kevin Itoya.
Kevin Itoya started what looked like an unlikely comeback, first he left fly from 30yards out before Chidere Eze riffled in another with 18mins of normal time left to play.
What?….. 2-3.. What went wrong with Kano Pillars??, what did Ogunbote tell his boys at halftime??.. Well, your guess is as good as mine.
Rangers Intl kept asking all of the questions and will eventually find their equaliser as Ajani Ibrahim rolled home in the box on the 91st of 8minutes added time.
Wow. Just wow. The stadium went crazy, Kano Pillars fans, didn’t know what had hit them as they started leaving in their numbers while destroying the seats in their stand.
The Rangers end didn’t see that coming and after being silent for most part of the game picked up their voice from nowhere, “HOLY HOLY Rangers” rang round the Stephen Keshi Stadium.
Full-time and straight to penalties. Rangers Intl scored all of their four kicks with Kano Pillars missing two.
Isaac Loute delightfully poking home the winner for Rangers Intl.
Ladies and gentlemen, the stadium erupted, pandemonium, pitch encroachment, loud noise and tears of joy around.
Rangers Intl are Cup champions for the first time in 35years and Gbenga Ogunbote wins his first ever managerial trophy.
That was a game and a half. Such an amazing pleasure to see that masterclass unfold in my eyes. Like Mr Wole Otayemi would say “I covered it!!!!!”
Asaba was interesting and I’d love to be back here.
See you soon, Asaba!