The 2023 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) runner-up, Remo Stars of Ikenne, will face newly promoted NPFL side, Sporting Lagos, in the maiden Naija Super 8 tournament final on Sunday.
Daniel Ogunmodede’s boys secured a slot in the final, courtesy of a 2-1 victory over Lobi Stars in their semi-final match played at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena on Friday, while Sporting Lagos recovered from a goal down to beat Akwa United 2-1.
Remo Stars qualified for the semi-finals by a hairbreadth, but dominated the opening exchanges of their match, and nearly forced Lobi Stars defence to an own goal in the 13th minute. In return, Lobi Stars danger man, Joseph Atule, forced Remo Stars goalkeeper, Kayode Bankole into a fingertip save in the 20th minute.
The Ikenne boys opened the scoring in the 24th minute through Dena Akorli, who guided Isaac James’ pinpoint cross into the bottom corner. Atule was close to drawing Lobi Stars level in the 31st minute, crashing his half-volley against the upright. The Remo Stars goalkeeper was forced into another big save in the 40th minute, as Lobi Stars pushed for the equliser. Bankole preserved his side’s lead into the break with another brilliant save to deny Liman Amadu, late in the half.
Two minutes into the second half, Nduka Junior doubled Remo Stars lead, heading home from a Conner. Lobi Stars found a way back into the match courtesy of a handball in the box by Nwaeze Boniface. Atule made no mistake from the spot to score his third goal of the tournament in the 62nd minute.
In his post match interview, Remo Stars coach, Daniel Ogunmodede, said his boys were well prepared for Lobi Stars, and are now eyeing the trophy. “I had the opportunity to watch Lobi Stars earlier in this tournament and we prepared well against complacency because this is a different Lobi Stars team, with a new manager. We were in control of the match. And when we needed to defend, the boys defended well. I am sure we are going to win this trophy. Everything gives me assurance that we will win it,” he said.
The highly entertaining battle of the wildcards bursted to life in the 20th minute, when Uche Collins had a glorious chance to put Akwa United ahead, but missed an open goal with his header from six yards out.
The Uyo side were clearly the best side in the first half. Cyril Olisema missed a sitter in the 36th minute, then Sodiq Rilwan narrowly missed the target in the 37th minute with a shot from the edge of the penalty box. Few minutes later, they were awarded a controversial penalty, after the goalkeeper was adjudged to have brought down Rilwan in the box. Olisema converted the penalty to give his side the lead in the 42nd minute. Fatai Osho’s side continued to dominate the game, and comfortably took their lead into the break.
Sporting Lagos started the second half better than the first. They missed a great chance to qualise when Saturday Okon somehow failed to hit the target with the goalpost at his mercy in the 48th minute. Their pressure eventually paid off in the 54th minute. Saturday atoned for his big miss, getting on the end of a Jonathan Aluku’s cross, to tap home from close range. Aluku became the match winner in 70th minute, heading home a cross to complete the comeback. A defensive mistake almost gifted Akwa United an equaliser in the 90th minute, but Meshack Dennis could not sort his feet to convert the chance.
Reacting to the result, Sporting Lagos coach, John Offor, said he tweaked his team’s pattern in the second half to put the opponent under pressure, adding that his team is not under pressure to win the tournament. “I’ve had the opportunity of watching Akawa United play. We learnt about them in the first half. We saw how they played and we played two strikers to counter them in the second half. The first fifteen minutes of that second half was the best we’ve played this season. Whatever the result on Sunday, we have achieved our aim for the season. We will come out to express and enjoy ourselves on Sunday and see what comes out of it,” he said.
The Naija Super 8 final will kick-off at 5pm on Sunday, with the competition trophy and multi-million Naira at stake. In addition to N3 million earned for each group and semi-final match, the winner of the tournament will receive N25 million, while the runner-up will get N9 million.
Naija Super 8 is organised by Flykite Productions in partnership with MultiChoice Nigeria and sponsors, MTN, Hero Lager, DStv, GOtv, SuperSport, Moniepoint, Pepsi and Custodian Assurance.