Bolaji Jokanola & Oboh Benjamin
Excitement is brewing among football fans in Nigeria as the 80th final of the Federation Cup approaches will feature two formidable teams steeped in history, vying for the CAF Confederations Cup ticket.
Enugu Rangers and Bendel Insurance will lock horns in a thrilling showdown at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba, marking the third time they have clashed in the tournament’s final. With a combined total of nine titles between them, both sides are poised to give their all in the quest for glory.
Bendel Insurance has three Federation Cup triumphs under their belt. Building on their solid performance during the regular season of the just concluded Nigerian Premier Football League (NPFL), Insurance continued to impress in the Federation Cup. Their journey to the final has been a test of resilience and skill, navigating a challenging path. The team’s defensive prowess has been on full display, as they are yet to concede a goal throughout the single-elimination competition. Securing four consecutive 1-0 victories over ABS FC, Ahudiya FC, Heartland FC, and Sunshine Stars, the Benin Arsenal set up a thrilling semifinal encounter against 2013 runners-up, Warri Wolves. The semifinal match was a fierce battle that ultimately required a penalty shootout, with Insurance goalkeeper, Amas Obasogie’s heroics sending Insurance to the final as they emerged triumphant at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena in Lagos.
On the other side of the showdown, Enugu Rangers, the ‘Flying Antelopes,’ boasts of an impressive record with six Federation Cup victories to their name. Similar to their opponents, they exhibited remarkable defensive strength throughout the tournament. Abdu Maikaiba’s side displayed their mettle by securing victories in a variety of circumstances, including a 2-0 win against Kano Pillars in Abuja and a comfortable 3-1 triumph over FC Ebedei in the round of 16. Facing off against fellow NPFL sides, Doma United and Plateau United, Enugu Rangers secured narrow 1-0 victories in both matches.
The upcoming final clash between these traditional rivals will mark their third encounter in the Federation Cup final. The previous two meetings have resulted in one victory for each side, intensifying the stakes for this momentous occasion. As for Enugu Rangers, they will be eager to claim their seventh cup win, whereas Insurance will be determined to secure their fourth.
Both teams are led by experienced coaches who understand the significance of the Federation Cup. Abdu Maikaba, the coach of Enugu Rangers achieved success in 2017 with Akwa United, further fueling his desire for triumph in this year’s final.
Meanwhile, Monday Odigie, the mastermind behind Insurance’s journey, aims to add a Federation Cup title to his previous league victory in 2009 with Bayelsa United. The tactical battle between these two seasoned coaches is sure to add another layer of intrigue to an already captivating final.
At the center of it all is the young Lagos-based FIFA badged referee, Adebimpe Quadri who has had almost four finals to his whistle. The appointment of the centre referee has switched a bit the attention from what both coaches would do on that day to what the umpiring of the game would be. Quadri who officiated the last match between these two sides at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena, Lagos in what was more like the third-placed match of the Dozy Mmobuosi Cup last December, also officiated the matchday two of the NPFL 2022/2023 season between Bendel Insurance and Plateau United – a match where he almost took the life out of the people of Edo after awarding an 89th-minute spot kick to the Fidelis Ilechukwu side.
All fingers are crossed today as we look forward to what the centre referee and his assistants would bring to the table.
As both teams vie for a continental ticket, Nigeria football enthusiasts from across the country anticipate the 80th Federation Cup final, set to take place by 5 pm at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba, Delta State.