Familiar battles typify Matchday 8 schedule
By George Akpayen
This weekend in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), there will be another Oriental Derby and a return for one of the most celebrated managers in the country to an old stomping ground in what promises to be a stimulating matchday.
Seven matches are on offer this Sunday including an Oriental Derby with its setting in Nnewi. The three other matches for the matchday have been scheduled to hold next week owing to CAF club competition engagement for champions Plateau United, MFM FC and Akwa United this weekend.
ORIENTAL DERBY IN NNEWI
It will be the first Oriental Derby that Nnewi will play hosts to this season when FC Ifeanyiubah square up against Heartland in a revived rivalry. For Heartland, this is their third Oriental Derby after facing Enyimba and Rangers in which they have managed to take just a point from six.
The Naze Millionaires will be buoyed by their midweek success at Niger Tornadoes where they tore to shreds bookmakers’ calls to edge past the Minna club 2-1 at the Confluence Stadium in Lokoja. On the other hand, their rivals FC Ifeanyiubah have won just a game in their last five league outings, something which is of concern to Ladan Bosso.
“We know how important this game is,” Bosso said to npfl.ng. “At times we have been unlucky not to win or avoid defeat in our away games because when you look at the scoreline they are always close. Our focus is on this game now.”
So the two clubs renew their rivalry after 564 days when they last played each other before Heartland got relegated in 2016 from the top division for the first time in their history. Heartland have only won once in their last five meetings with FC Ifeanyiubah and have lost all of their last five games on the road at the Nnewi club without scoring a goal.
IMAMA AMAPAKABO’S RETURN TO ENUGU
About 68 miles from Nnewi, there will be a renewed union. El-Kanemi Warriors head coach Imama Amapakabo is expected to lead his team to face his old employers Rangers at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu since he moved to the northeast at the start of this season.
Amapakabo will take charge of El-Kanemi for the first time this season after returning from the African Nations Championship (CHAN) in Morocco where he worked as assistant coach with the Super Eagles. What a way to take charge of his first official game in the league for El-Kanemi.
The return of Amapakabo to ‘The Cathedral’ as the stadium in Enugu is now nicknamed should elicit emotions from the stands and among the playing personnel of the Flying Antelopes after the El-Kanemi coach’s feat in 2016 when he led them to their first league title in 32 years.
It should be an uncanny feeling for Amapakabo when he steps on the turf of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium for the first time in just over nine months when he last managed Rangers to a 2-2 draw with Zesco United in a CAF Confederation Cup game.
Interestingly, Amapakabo will lead El-Kanemi, a club that fell 0-4 to Rangers on the final day of the 2016 season to win the title. The pictures of that final day will surely flood back in the face of the 48-year-old trainer when he steps out onto the turf of The Cathedral this Sunday.
In Akure, the spotlight will fall on Kano Pillars forward Junior Lokosa who is currently the top scorer in the division with seven goals. Sunshine Stars are the opponents in wait for Lokosa and his teammates this Sunday.
The bottom-two Niger Tornadoes and Kwara United play at home against Nasarawa United and Katsina United respectively. Both clubs will look to put improved results on the board after enduring off days in these early stages of the campaign.
Tornadoes are currently on the longest run of five matches without a single point while Kwara United are still struggling to find their feet in a division they just made a return to after being relegated in 2015.
Two of the promoted sides Go Round FC and Yobe Desert Stars also play at home when they face Abia Warriors and Rivers United respectively.
On Monday, Wikki Tourists will play hosts to Lobi Stars at the New Jos Stadium. Midweek fixtures will feature Enyimba versus Plateau United on Wednesday, and on Thursday, MFM FC square up against table-toppers Akwa United at the Agege Stadium in Lagos.