Big game preview: Record winners Enyimba, Rangers ready to square up
By Fisayo Dairo
Oriental Derbies do not come bigger than Rangers versus Enyimba these days. It is always an occasion that pitches a unique set of Antelopes, specially known with wings to fly against the globally acclaimed Elephant of the people.
When both sets of creatures converge on the famed Cathedral on Sunday afternoon, not only will there be points to fight for, but also scores to settle among certain characters across the divide.
Both teams won the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) title one after the other in 2015 and 2016 and can still boast of key members from those title winning squads.
Theophilus Afelokhai, Uche John, Ifeanyi Anaemena and Chinonso Okonkwo still don the royal blue colour of the Elephant while Okey Odita, Christian and Chiamaka Madu, Godwin Aguda and Tope Olusesi remain as vital as ever for Rangers.
Sunday’s game also throws in the mix, actors who have featured for the opposing side in their very recent history.
In this corresponding fixture last term, Gbenga Ogunbote who now coaches the the Flying Antelopes was in charge of Enyimba as the hosts earned a last gasp point, courtesy of Chibuzor Madu (another former Elephant)’s stoppage time penalty.
Ogunbote not only have with him as former Elephants the three Madus but also the legendary Ugwu Uwadiegwu, midfielder Solomon Okpako whom Ogunbote took along as a souvenir from Calabar to Enugu, Beach Soccer warlord Abu Azeez and another former Enyimba stalwart goalkeeper Olufemi Thomas.
Enyimba have without a doubt lost many of their stars to Rangers but Paul Aigbogun was able to get a fans favourite from Enugu in Chinedu Sunday Udeagha. The central midfielder played for Rangers for at least six years before joining Enyimba last December.
The former Ranchers Bees star is filled with mixed feelings as he gets set to play against the club where he achieved a cult hero status.
“I feel very, very excited though emotional to return to Enugu,” Udeagha told www.npfl.ng after Enyimba’s training in Enugu on Friday evening.
“I still love my Enugu fans. I still love and respect them. If I have my way, if not for professionalism, I don’t even want to play against my former club because I have so much respect for them.
“I know they will welcome me very very well. I’m coming there to play the way I will normally play so nothing much there. I just pray to God to give us the victory on Sunday,” said Udeagha
It is never easy for such a change in scenery for a player so used to everything the club stands for. In Chinedu’s case though, the quest for a fresh challenge elicited his decision.
“It was not that difficult for me to leave Rangers.
“I just made up my mind that I really need to leave because you know in life, you have to leave your comfort zone for you to go and face a fresh challenge so that you can still show what you have.
“You know you still have more years to play football and if you stay in one team, it will look as if you don’t have anything to offer again so you just have to face a new challenge,” explained the left-footed midfielder.
Aigbogun’s second stint in charge of the 2015 league champions have started in the best possible way. They have lost only once in ten league games and have remained unbeaten in their last seven matches.
Udeagha hopes the unbeaten sequence will remain in tact after Sunday’s game.
“I expect that (the unbeaten run) to continue by the grace of God. It is not by our efforts or by our power so I just pray that God will continue giving us the grace.
“We want to end the league on a very good note. We just hope to keep up what we’re doing and end at the top of the table so we just pray for God to guide us and keep us injury-free till the end,”
While Enyimba go into the derby on a high after a resounding away win on the continent, their hosts Rangers have to pick themselves up quickly to address a dwindling form as they search for a first victory in four attempts and have won just twice in their last seven league games.
Sunday’s game will be live on the NTA from 4pm local time.