- Published on Saturday, 30 September 2017 13:11
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By George Akpayen
It will be an all Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) semi-finals in the Aiteo Cup as four sides holders FC Ifeanyiubah, Akwa United, Niger Tornadoes and Sunshine Stars take part in first leg games on Saturday.
FC Ifeanyiubah will play on the road in the first leg at the Confluence Stadium in Lokoja against Niger Tornadoes who are aiming for a second Cup title while Sunshine Stars also looking to win their first major silverware in the country play hosts to 2015 winners Akwa United.
The Sunshine Stars versus Akwa United game brings to mind the round of 16 match-up between the two sides last year when they cancelled themselves to a 0-0 draw before the Uyo club progressed on 8-7 penalties.
Sunshine Stars who are the only club in the last four yet to win the Aiteo Cup have in Duke Udi a manager who has reached this stage of the Cup competition in 2013 as Giwa FC head coach. That year the eventual winners Enyimba broke hearts through a solitary strike from Cameroon striker Rafael Boumsoung at the MKO Abiola Stadium in Abeokuta.
Now Udi is looking to go one better.
“Of course, if you want to be champions you must be ready to confront the best. We are prepared to face Akwa United. We do not fear any side, Akwa United inclusive.
"They have gone past four stiff matches to get to the semis. We, too, have equally gone past four previous opponents so both sides are evenly matched to go into the semi-final clash," Udi told Sunshine Stars media during the week.
Sunshine Stars' opponents are boosted with the return of their WAFU Cup of Nations contingent - Emmanuel Ariwachukwu, Afeez Aremu, Ubong Friday, Ifeanyi Ifeanyi and striker Gabriel Okechukwu. Surely this will afford their head coach Abdu Maikaba options in his choice of playing personnel for the game at the Dipo Dina Stadium in Ijebu-Ode.
It is a third semi-final appearance for the Promise Keepers who could reach their second showpiece game in the Aiteo Cup for the second time in three years if they overcome Sunshine Stars in the two-legged contest.
FC Ifeanyiubah have become the first Aiteo Cup holders to reach back-to-back to semi-finals following in the footsteps of Enyimba who managed that feat in 2013 and 2014 when they won the Cup on both occasions defeating Warri Wolves and Dolphins FC (now Rivers United).
The Anambra Warriors produced an impressive performance over two legs in the quarter-finals to see off ABS FC in Nnewi and Ilorin, and without conceding.
They go up against Tornadoes who last reached the semi-final stage 11 years ago when they lost to Dolphins FC but went on to finish third with a 2-1 success over Kaduna United.
Niger Tornadoes head coach Abubakar Bala is hopeful that they can build on their achievement this year after finishing in a respectable mid-table position in the NPFL and ousting league champions Plateau United in the quarter-final stage.
"The team is in good spirit for this game," he told npfl.ng. "We know we are facing the defending champions and we expect them to be very prepared too. But we are confident after our outing in the league and also beating the league champions in the previous round."
Second leg of the semi-final matches in the Aiteo Cup comes up next Wednesday week in Nnewi and Uyo.
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