- Published on Saturday, 14 October 2017 17:57
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By George Akpayen
Akwa United and Niger Tornadoes will go toe to toe for the third time this season but when they meet on Sunday, it will be one of the most important games for them this season as they aim to win the AITEO Cup.
Their previous meetings this season have been in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) over two games. When they first met in March this year, Tornadoes won 1-0 through Ifeanyi Okoye's goal from the spot kick and at that time, Abdu Maikaba was still struggling to get to grips with life in his new role as Akwa United head coach at the time.
However when they would meet for the second time this year in August, Tornadoes found out that The Promise Keepers were a totally different kettle of fish from the team they had defeated by a goal five months earlier.
Akwa United were simply rampant as they won 3-0 through goals from Cyril Olisema, Gabriel Okechukwu and Edem Akakatang despite missing some of their stellar names in that fixture at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo.
This year, Abubakar Bala, on his part has been able to build a group of players who have impressed and even outdone themselves, according to pundits. Their performance in their matches against league champions Plateau United and Cup holders FC Ifeanyiubah is expected to spur them to give Akwa United a run for their money.
En route to the final, it is believed that Tornadoes had quite a tough draw as they played against NPFL sides in El-Kanemi Warriors, Plateau United and FC Ifeanyiubah compared to Akwa United who got past Halfa FC, Yobe Desert Stars, Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC) and Katsina United.
What many consider easy pickings for Akwa United in their run-up to the Cup final, the Uyo club have scored 23 goals in seven matches while Tornadoes have managed 12 in same number of Cup games.
Ahead of Sunday's game, one of the main characters expected to light up the Agege Stadium in Lagos is Christian Pyagbara who has accounted for seven of the 23 goals scored by Akwa United. Maikaba will also rely on the like of goalkeeper Olorunleke Ojo, Musa Newman, Ubong Friday, Emmanuel Ariwachukwu, Godspower Igudia and Kodjovi Dadzie among others.
Bala's team though are not replete with some of the country's big names, they can feel assured in goalkeeper Mustapha Aliko, Ikefe Andrew, Isah Hussaini, Sunday Akinmoladun, Ibrahim Babawo, Bolaji Adeyemo, Rabiu Sani, Bashar Usman, Lukas Yahaya, Samuel Agba and veteran Isyaku Ilyasu who was part of the Tornadoes team that won the Cup in 2000.
Apart from juxtaposing the playing personnel of both teams side by side which makes Akwa United look favourites on paper, the Uyo club have also reached the last four of the Cup competition three times in the last five years to further put themselves as the side to beat.
Nevertheless it is a Cup final and both teams will be looking to win their second Cup titles - Akwa United won it in 2015 and Tornadoes got their only success 17 years ago.
It will be a case of who blinks first inside the Soccer Temple as Agege Stadium is now nicknamed.
HOW THEY REACHED THE FINAL
Round of 64
Niger Tornadoes (Niger) 2-1 El-Kanemi Warriors (Borno)
Halfa FC (Jigawa) 1-3 Akwa United FC (Akwa Ibom)
Round of 32
Akwa United 4-2 Yobe Desert Stars
Niger Tornadoes 1-0 FC Atete
Round of 16
Niger Tornadoes 1-0 FC Abuja
Akwa United 5-1 Shooting Stars
Akwa United 8-2 Katsina United Feeders (1st leg: 7-0 & 2nd leg: 1-2)
Niger Tornadoes 4-2 Plateau United (1st leg: 2-0 & 2nd leg: 2-2)
Niger Tornadoes 4-3 FC Ifeanyiubah (1st leg: 4-2 & 2nd leg: 0-1)
Akwa United 3-2 Sunshine Stars (1st leg: 0-1 & 2nd leg: 3-1)
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