The 2018/19 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) Championship Playoffs enters the final match day on Wednesday with the giant trophy and two more continental slots up for grabs.
The four previous match days of high intensity and top level competition have left seven-time league champions Enyimba as the only team to have sealed a continental place for next season while FC Ifeanyiubah are the only team mathematically out of the running having picked up the ignominious tag of “whipping boys”.
A total of thirty-six goals have been scored in twelve matches, an impressive average of three goals per game. Yet, in spite of a low scoring Match Day 4 (by the lofty standards of this season’s playoffs), it does not look like the teams are tired of banging in the good, great goals.
Enyimba overtook Kano Pillars at the summit of the log after an expected, but comprehensive 3-1 win over FC Ifeanyiubah on Monday night. All the People’s Elephant now need to seal a return to CAF Champions League football for the first time in four seasons is a loss not more than a one-goal margin against Akwa United who desperately need a win.
Enyimba’s nine points have guaranteed them of a top three spot regardless of Wednesday’s result but Usman Abd’Allah’s men do have their sights on the trophy they last won in 2015. Akwa United who remain unbeaten in their first four games will however pose a capable threat to their aspirations.
United head coach Rafael Everton is expected to recall former Enyimba star Mfon Udoh – who came on as substitute in their last two games – to the starting line up and the Brazilian acknowledges that it will be a difficult game on Wednesday.
“We will continue to believe. We came here to work and we will continue to believe that we will win the league. It is (going to be) a difficult game, it is a derby but we’ve not lost in all the games we have played so we will start planning to win the last game,” Everton told www.npfl.ng.
Kano Pillars are the only remaining unbeaten side in this Playoffs and they require just a point from their last game against calculator-wearied Lobi Stars to seal a return to the continent since 2015. Pillars were denied by a late minute penalty against Rangers on Monday which made them relinquish their top spot to Enyimba.
Pillars will continue to rely on forwards Nyima Nwagua and Ebuka David Odenigbo against a Lobi Stars side who can still finish third with a win should both Rangers and Akwa United lose their games.
Another side with their destiny not directly in their hands is current Cup winners Rangers International. Gbenga Ogunbote’s wards are expected to have a straight forward win on paper over FC Ifeanyiubah but that may not be sufficient for them if Lobi Stars do not do them the favour of beating Pillars.
Rangers have five points, three less than Pillars but will have to win by at least a 3-goal margin against the 2016 Federation Cup winners and pray that Pillars lose, or Akwa United fail to win if they intend to make it a back-to-back appearance in the CAF Confederation Cup.
The Agege Township Stadium remains the stage for the final day of hostilities and while landing the topmost prize of the NPFL 2018/19 season will be tops on the wish list of Enyimba, Kano Pillars and Akwa United, an eventual place on the continent should soothe in no small measure for the latter duo.
Surely, a day of celebration, ecstasy, what ifs, if only and had we known is in the offing with tears of joy and sorrow expected to flow over onto the Agege waters.
3PM – FC Ifeanyiubah vs Rangers
5PM – Enyimba vs Akwa United
7PM – Kano Pillars vs Lobi Stars