Substitute Gabriel Okechukwu converted the decisive spot kick as Akwa United defeated Niger Tornadoes to win the first edition of Nigeria’s Cup competition sponsored by AITEO.
Both teams fought out a pensive goalless draw in the ninety minutes of regulation time at a packed Agege Stadium before striker Okechukwu converted during the sixth round of spot kicks to hand United the title.
Victory on Sunday means the Promise Keepers have now won the Cup competition twice in three years after their 2015 triumph at the Teslim Balogun Stadium and will now represent Nigeria at next year’s CAF Confederation Cup.
Sunday’s final will go down as a rather forgettable one in the minds of soccer followers who had anticipated a glimpse of Akwa United’s free flowing footballing philosophy which had seen them score twenty three goals en route to the final.
Their opponents however would not afford them any space or time as they frustrated Abdu Maikaba’s men for larger periods.
In fact, the best chance of the first half deservedly fell to Tornadoes but Wilfred Ammeh Angel’s effort from ten yards was brilliantly saved by Akwa goalkeeper Olorunleke Ojo.
United’s frustrations grew as the half edged to a close as three of their players received bookings in what was a tortuous first half display.
The second half was indeed not any better as tackles kept flying here and there and neither side really got a strangle hold of the midfield action.
Both sides ring changes around the hour mark and their substitutes somehow brought a little more light on the gloomy fixture.
Tornadoes substitute Bashar Usman raced through on goal but a moment of hesitation was followed by a weak effort straight at Akwa goalkeeper Ojo.
The game’s biggest chance however fell to Akwa United’s substitute Gabriel Okechukwu five minutes from time but the striker somehow failed to hit the target after beating a badly set offside trap by Tornadoes.
The final was watched by about 4,000 fans including an array of dignitaries such as Governors Akinwunmi Ambode and Udom Emmanuel of Lagos and Akwa-Ibom states, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State, CAF President Ahmad Ahmad, CAF Vice Presidents Kwesi Nyantakyi and Omari Selemani, CAF Emergency Committee members Souleman Waberi and Amaju Melvin Pinnick, Executive Committee members of Nigeria’s Football Federation.
For a second successive season, the Federation Cup, now AITEO Cup required the lottery of penalty shootout and United emerged luckiest as the shootout sequence mirrored what happened during the regulation time – only five of the twelve spot kicks were converted.
Left and right full backs for Tornadoes Hussaini Isah and Reuben Ogbonnaya converted their kicks but were made to rue misses by Peter Momoh, Bashar Usman, Andrew Ikefe and Bolaji Adeyemo. Ikefe’s especially as the big central defender spurned what would have been a match winning penalty for his side.
Akwa United made the worst possible start to the shootout with former MFM midfielder Ifeanyi Ifeanyi’s kick brilliantly saved by Mustapha Aliko on Ifeanyi’s old stomping ground.
United never really looked assured during the shootout but left back Kodjovi Dadzie, another former MFM star Cyril Olisema and striker Gabriel Okechukwu converted in crucial periods to give Akwa United victory.
The winners claimed the tournament’s winning prize of N25,000,000 naira, a 1000% increment from the N2,000,000 naira given to last year’s winner, FC Ifeanyiubah.
Akwa United’s goalkeeper, Olorunleke Ojo won the final game’s Man of the match award and tournament’s Golden Glove while his teammate Christian Pyagbara won the tournament’s Golden Boot award with seven goals.
Aliko; Ogbonnaya, Ikefe, Akinmoladun, Isah; Zango, Adeyemo, Ammeh (Peter Momoh 72’), Babawo, Wakili (Bashar Usman 54’) Sani Rabiu.
Unused Subs: Melai; Iliyasu, T. Awwal, Iko, Rabiu.
Ojo; Otobong, Igudia, Ariwachukwu, Dadzie; Aremu (Chigozie Chilekwu 90’), Ifeanyi; Ubong, Olisema; Newman (Michael Ibe Okoro 87’), Pyagbara (Gabriel Okechukwu 67’)
Shagari, Paterne, Babangida, Amaechi Orji.