The Nigeria Professional Football League Super Four Round Two is set to begin in Uyo on Monday next week and it presents a much sterner barometer of where the teams are, and where they hope to be.
The cast of course is NPFL’s continental quartet; Nasarawa United, Akwa United, Enyimba and Warri Wolves in the order they finished in the first round in Kaduna and with the several new faces most of these clubs flaunted, the managers realize it is a race against time to get them ready as duels with some of the continent’s biggest clubs loom on the horizon. Six competitive games against equally fired up opposition – perhaps an ideal warm up seeing the league will not be starting till the middle of next month.
Recent performances of Nigerian clubs in continental Club competitions have been far away from impressive with Enyimba, still the only Nigerian side to have won the most sought after CAF Champions League trophy. The danger is that, the record is almost becoming a folk tale – the average NPFL supporter barely remembers what transpired in Egypt 13 years ago or what followed a year later in Abuja. In other words, another continental conquest is long overdue and none would be more grateful than the league’s new teeming disciples.
Having accomplished a record seventh league title, Enyimba know it is time to assert this dominance among the big boys of the continent and the manner of their recruitment reflects this priority. The bulk of last season’s title-winning team has remained while some of the best legs from other clubs have been brought on board under the tutelage of new gaffer Paul Aigbogun. After two false starts in Kaduna, they ended on a high, firing two past rivals Warri Wolves.
Wolves themselves have seen wholesale changes in playing and coaching personnel and while a number of young players have been promoted into the first team, a number of key players have jumped ship. But former assistant manager, Sam Okpodu, who has now been handed the reins for the Seasiders, believes that while experience is priceless in a competition such as the CAF Champions League where his team are making a first ever appearance, his young and largely inexperienced team can navigate beyond the preliminary rounds.
The other two – the country’s Confederation Cup representatives and in fact debutants too, Nasarawa United and Akwa United, both have all to do in unfamiliar terrains. The former can draw inspiration from their ‘giant-killing’ exploits last season as well as an unbeaten run in the Super Four first round. For Akwa United coach, Maurice Cooreman and Federation Cup winners, Akwa United, they have already promised at least semifinal place in the competition this season. They are called the Promise Keepers, this however would be the most important promise of all so far and not just their fans but indeed all of Nigeria’s football community would be hoping they are able to keep it.