By Tunde Oyedele
Warri Wolves Football Club were so close to winning the 2013 Federation Cup going by their fantastic display against highly rated Enyimba International of Aba, but it was the People’s Elephant that claimed the title at the end of an interesting final played at Teslim Balogun Stadium in Surulere, Lagos on Sunday.
Enyimba won the tie 5-4 via penalty kicks. The action packed encounter, watched by thousands of spectators including Governors Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos State and Theodore Ahamefule Orji of Abia State, ended 2-2 at the end of 90 minutes, with the Aba side coming from behind to level scores twice.
Just as the full game was keenly contested by Enyimba and Warri Wolves, the spot kick was also competitive, but Azubuike Egwueke punctured his team’s chances of lifting the rebranded national FA Cup.
The Super Eagles defender was the only player who lost his kick during the penalty shootout, leaving Enyimba to capture their third Federation Cup. With goalkeeper Thomas Femi giving Enyimba an average cover, the Elephant took the ball to Wolves right from the blast of the whistle.
Rasheed Olabiyi, Uwadiegwu Ugwu, Ojobo Markson, skipper Udoji Chinedu, Ifeanyi Ude and Sokari Kingsley were brilliant with their deft touches against Wolves, but the agility of Egwueke, Eyimofe Joseph, Osagie Monday and Musa Kundi denied Enyimba an early goal.
By the 14th minute mark, Sibi Gwar was close to scoring when he had a clear opportunity in Wolves’ vital area, but his shot was damn too feeble to beat goalkeeper Okiemute Odah.
After the scare, Wolves, who apparently respected Enyimba came out to challenge for ball possession. It became a ding dong affair as the Warri boys got their first corner kick, which was wasted.
Wolves again pilled more pressure on Enyimba’s rear and got another corner kick in the process. Musa Najare, a member of the Nigeria Beach Soccer team, however nodded home Wolves’ opening goal from a perfectly taken corner kick in the 23rd minute.
‘Goal!’ The fans roared from the stands, as the tempo of the tension soaked match increased. Saka Ayo and Kingsley grabbed the ball from the middle and ran deep into Wolves’ vital area.
The Enyimba players tossed the ball around and combed the astro turf of Teslim Balogun Stadium as if the crucial equaliser was concealed underneath, but Joseph, Kundi and Egwueke stood tall to keep the Elephant at bay.
The Aba side did not give up, as they moved forward to create a few chances upfront but still did not get an equaliser in good time. Enyimba were forced to make an early substitution as Coach Salisu Yusuf pulled out Saka for Chimezie Amanfor with barely four minutes to the end of the first half, which ended 1-0 in favour of Wolves.
When action resumed in the second half, Wolves’ goalkeeper Odah was kept busy by Enyimba’s renewed forward play. However, the Aba side finally hit target in the 61st minute when Bright Esieme equalised 1-1, sending their fans and other spectators into celebration.
Both teams made more changes; with Fidelis Saviour replacing Gwar for Enyimba, while Wolves pulled out Anobi Kola and introduced Onamado Goodluck.
There were near misses by Enyimba as the match progressed, but Wolves shot to the lead again in the 84th minute when Osadiaye Joseph lashed on a rebound from goalkeeper Thomas and slotted in the goal to give his team a 2-1 lead.
The dust was yet to settle down after Joseph’s goal when Ugwu Uwadiegwu netted the equaliser to make the score line 2-2. Ugwu’s spot kick caught goalkeeper Odah napping, as he was flat footed when the ball rolled into the net.
Wolves, who thought they had won the match before Ugwu’s goal in the 86th minute, tried to outplay Enyimba, but no other goal was scored till end of the regulation time.
While the spectators and other dignitaries were still pondering over the interesting match, players of both sides resumed to play another tension-soaked penalty shootout, which Enyimba won 5-4.
At the end of the game, Lagos Governor, Fashola presented the gold medals to Enyimba players and their officials, and as they grabbed the trophy and N2m prize money, the club’s popular song; Nsogbu Nsogbu, Enyimba Enyi rented the air.
Enyimba players and their fans left the Stadium smiling and celebrated their victory into the night, while Wolves players, Coach Solomon Ogbeide and other officials bowed their heads as they departed the arena.
Meanwhile, Rivers Angels retained the women’s category of the Federation Cup same day, as they defeated Nasarawa Amazons 3-0 in the final played before the game between Enyimba and Warri Wolves.