AITEO Cup: 3 flash points in round of 64

AITEO Cup: 3 flash points in round of 64

Who will be in charge of security? The State FA? The host club? Will that still ensure fairness in policing?

The 2017 Nigeria Challenge Cup, now rechristened AITEO Cup will get underway fully on Wednesday in different venues across the most populous nation in Africa. As in previous seasons, there were the rookies elimination games last week which got everything set for round of 64 games on Wednesday, August 16.

The new home and away format of the Cup has been criticized by many followers of the domestic leagues but that would not change anything for now as this year’s edition (at least) must proceed on that format.

For a competition that witnessed no fewer than three key abandonments last year – two involving the eventual winners FC Ifeanyiubah -, concerns over fairness of match officials as well as security of participants look genuine enough.

Rivers State Sports Commissioner Boma Iyaye ordering United’s players out of the pitch last year.

The Football Federation have done well enough to ensure that only elite referees in the land officiate the games but there are some questions left to be answered:

Who will be in charge of security? The State FA? The host club? Will that still ensure fairness in policing?

There we go then. There will be five All-Premier League fixtures and a handful of All-NNL fixtures in the round of 64. We take a look at three of the centres that scares Nigerian football followers the most of all the venues for today’s games.

Nembe City Stadium, Nembe: Bayelsa United vs Zamfara United.

Some section of football followers have nicknamed the stadium in Nembe as “Lion’s Den”. It is that fearful. Without exaggeration, most of the teams that have visited Nembe to face Bayelsa United or Bayelsa Queens have come back with sad tales of events on and off the pitch including most recently Crown FC, United’s opponents last Sunday.

While complaints can be discarded for want of evidences, Insurance, Go-Round FC in the Nigeria National League (NNL) and Rivers Angels, Sunshine Queens in the Women League are some of the witnesses. Nembe certainly is a venue to hold your hearts for when Zamfara United, not particularly doing fine in the Northern Division of the NNL come town on Wednesday.

Rivers Angels warming up at Nembe Stadium before their league game

Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Stadium, Bauchi: Wikki Tourists vs Plateau United

This is an All-Premier League fixture and it could not have come at a more dicey time for runaway league leaders Plateau United. Wikki Tourists were last Friday ordered to play their next league game behind closed doors after unruly behaviour of fans in their game against Rangers.

It was the 3rd time in the LMC era of the league that Wikki have been so slammed (the other times in August 2015 and July 2013). Knowing that fans will not be allowed when they host relegated Remo Stars on Sunday, it is shivering to note that Plateau United, a team capable of getting a good result will come calling on Wednesday.

Dan Anyiam Stadium, Owerri: Heartland vs Insurance

This is an NNL Southern  Conference derby and games between these two sides have always come with issues here and there. Insurance, through its Press officer Ben Ogbemudia have been termed by some as the “cry babies” of the NNL and this game is one to look out for.

Go-Round FC coach Ngozi Elechi told ACLSports after his team lost in Owerri to Papilo FC on Sunday morning that his team “played with just three policemen (at the stadium” while also alleging that the match officials were harassed at some point.

In all, we do hope to enjoy our football today in Nigeria’s Oldest Cup competition and pray that violence is eschewed by all stakeholders.

Are you as scared as myself? Feel free to reply (on the comment section) on which other venue you think scares you ahead of today’s matches.

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