ARS Season 4 National Finals Kicks Off

The National Championship of the season four of the Airtel Rising Stars U-17 Tournament for boys and girls got off to a resounding start in Lagos on Wednesday with first round of group matches decided at the Sports Complex of the Yaba College of Technology.
Five zones are participating in the championship with a total of 160 players spread among the teams which have ex-Nigeria internationals, Peter Rufai(Lagos), Mutiu Adepoju(Ilorin), Garba Lawal(Abuja), Ann Chiejinne(Enugu) and Olympic Gold Medalist, Chioma Ajunwa-Oparah(PH) as technical advisers.
In the opening match in the female category, Lagos defeated Enugu by 2-1. Enugu had shot into the lead in the first half with a long range effort from Chidera Ofor, but lost the lead when Folashade Ekun restored parity for the Lagos side. She had collected a pass from Seun Atanda who broke away from her marker deep inside the opposition half.
Lagos kept up the pressure with Taibat Odueke dorning jersey no 8 coordinating assaults from her midfield role. Sensing danger, Technical Adviser for Enugu zone, Ann Chiejinne pulled out defender Eneze Ebube for Chidimma Anaele.
Lagos finally took the much needed lead through the enterprising Taibat who converted from the spot after centre referee Ajala Oluwamuyiwa had controversially adjudged Chidimma Anaele to have brought down Ifeoma Nweze in the box.
In the first male match between Ilorin and Abuja, it was a goalless encounter that showed sparks of brilliance and a huge testimony of the abundance of untapped football talents in the country.
There were however several opportunities for both sides to secure the three points. The best chance fell to Ilorin in the second half through Jacob Ballah whose header hit the top bar of the post leaving goal keeper Ibrahim Benjamin no chance.
In other matches also decided today, Port Harcourt drew goalless with Enugu in the second male category match. Abuja female team lost by 2-0 to their counterparts from Port Harcourt. Gangling forward, Imoh Juliet put the PH team ahead after three minutes into the first half before a curling volley from Lydia Joshua made it sealed the win. Imoh spurned several chances to position herself for the golden boot.
Speaking about the performance of her teams, Enugu Technical Adviser, Ann Chiejinne commended them for putting up a good fight just as she noted that the championship has thrown up some hidden talents.
“It’s a grassroots competition, but I am satisfied with their performance in both matches. I am sure they will improve as the championship progresses. The good thing here is that we have seen some very gifted ones among them, “she said.
Matches continue tomorrow at the ARS 4 National Championship. In the male category, Abuja will face Enugu while Port Harcourt will come up against Ilorin. Abuja will take on Lagos in its second match of the day before Ilorin files out against Enugu.
In the female category, Ilorin and Enugu will open the day while Abuja and Lagos come up against each other shortly. Port Harcourt will face Enugu while Lagos takes on Ilorin in the final match of the day.
The four-day national finals promises to offer best of grassroots football laced with excitement, entertainment and fun with football artistry on display from the participating youngsters. The winner of the National Championship in each category will represent the country at the Africa Championship to be hosted in Gabon in the last week of August.
The ARS U-17 tournament, a pan-African initiative of Airtel Africa, is designed to provide support for the development of football talents across Nigeria. It aims at discovering talented male and female footballers under the age of 17 and providing them with platform to gain football skills and develop into professional footballers.
The tournament enjoys the support of football bodies such as Lagos State Football Association (LSFA), Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria (YSFON), Arsenal Football Club and Nigeria School Sports Federation (NSSF).

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