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Nigerian Football

Sunshine Stars – Rivers United clash marks 34 years of professional football in Nigeria

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

Activities in the Nigeria Premier League  may be limited to just one match this Sunday afternoon as Sunshine Stars host Rivers United in a rescheduled match, the encounter however  marks 34 years since Nigeria elite division turned professional.

On the 12th of May 1990, the Nigeria Professional Football league, NPFL was established. it the dawn of a new beginning as Nigerians, football followers looked up to greater feats in the Nigeria football.

It was on that day that Nigeria amateur elite players changed their names to professionals marking a new dawn in football in the country.

Without any fanfare, such that heralded the first North American Soccer League (NASL) in 1969 and the J-League of Japan in 1993, professional league kicked off in Nigeria. Like it is this Sunday, it was a single match that was played on the same date 34 years ago.

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When Nigeria started the professional football, the  pioneer clubs  included the now defunct Lagos ACB, BCC Lions,  Bendel United (now defunct) and Enyimba FC.

Others were Highlanders of Jos (now Plateau United), Iwuanyanwu Nationale, (now Heartland FC) JIB, Kano Pillars, Obanta United (later VIP – now defunct), Ranchers Bees, Enugu Rangers Bendel Insurance and Stationery Stores.

An attempt to have one of the pioneer clubs pitched against the Crystal Palace of England, as a symbolical kick off of professional league failed.

After years of prolonged debates, the professional league finally kicked off with a Super Stores versus Iwuanyanwu Nationale opener at the Onikan Stadium, Lagos.

The Owerri-based Iwuanyanwu, now renamed Heartland, dictated the pace of the away tie, winning 2-1. They kept their form and the pace until the season ended, winning the inaugural championship.

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Apart from Iwuanyanwu winning the inaugural match of the professional league, two other clubs also had away wins in their first outings. Enugu Rangers beat their traditional rivals; Shooting Stars 1-0 in Ibadan, while JIB Rocks (later renamed Plateau United) won their first away game, 3-0 against Obanta United (later renamed VIP of Lagos) in Ijebu-Ode.

To make the league higher and make teams have appetite for goals, a new point-scoring device was adopted. Traditionally drawn games attracted just a point.

But the then NFA awarded two points for score draws and one for goalless draw games. The point-scoring device was in use from 1990 season to 1994. Three points are however awarded for won games.

Across ages, Enyimba have been the most successful, winning the professional league eight times. They are followed by the crowd-pulling Kano Pillars who won four times.

Shooting Stars, Heartland and Lobi Stars have each won twice. In 2012, the Nigeria Professional League had its best ranking as the topmost in Africa and the 24th in the world.

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

Nigerian Football

Osimhen blasts Finidi

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Super Eagles’ arrowhead striker, Victor Osimhen has called out Finidi George who just resigned his position as Nigeria’s coach.

A livid Osimhen in a life post on Facebook, said that the erstwhile Nigerian coach lied about him and his commitment to the Super Eagles. He thereafter rained invectives on the coach and those who share the former Super Eagles’ point of view.

He remarked that he got injured in his club’s last Serie A match against Lecce and went to see his doctor.

After the report came out, Osimhen said he called Finidi to inform him of the injury and that he video recorded the conversation.

 He said he opted to still come to camp, but Finidi refused asking him to stay away and recover. He is however angry that Finidi reportedly doubted his commitment to Super Eagles.

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Nigerian Football

Ikenne town gets second club in Nigeria Premier League

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Ikenne, the home town of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the immediate past vice president, Prof. Yemi Osibajo, has entered the record books as the smallest community to have two clubs at the elite Nigeria football league, the NPFL. 

Next season, the town will have two clubs in the Nigeria Premier Football League following the promotion of Beyond Limit FC from the second tier Nigeria National League (NNL) after the play-off in Enugu.

Beyond Limit FC now join Remo Stars, strong contenders of the Nigerian league title in the past three seasons.

Also promited to the Premier League are Ikorodu City FC,  Nasarawa United and El-Kanemi Warriors.

The four teams secured promotion to the NPFL from the Nigeria National League (NNL) play-offs in Enugu.

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Nasarawa United and El-Kanemi Warriors are returning to the top division.

The teams clinched the top two spots in the Northern and Southern Conferences of the NNL.

In the Northern Conference, Nasarawa United of Lafia beat Sporting Supreme 2-1, finishing first with nine points.

El-Kanemi Warriors defeated Sokoto United 4-1 to take second place with six points.

Both Nasarawa United and El-Kanemi Warriors were relegated from the NPFL last year after finishing bottom of the league’s Group A but they have bounced back impressively at the first time of asking.

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In the Southern Conference, Beyond Limits topped the group with seven points after a 1-0 win over Inter Lagos. Ikorodu City beat Madiba FC 2-0, securing the second promotion spot with five points.

Beyond Limits, Football Academy etched its name in the history books after becoming the first African team to win the prestigious Viareggio Cup in Italy.

Each team in the playoffs played three matches, with the top two teams from each conference earning promotion to the NPFL.

Ikorodu City was established just two years ago.

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Nigerian Football

Leaders Rangers, Fall to Shooting Stars

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Nigeria League leaders, Enugu Rangers, were on the losing side on Wednesday as old rivals, Shooting Stars of Ibadan, picked the maximum points before a capacity home crowd.

Dumte Christian Pyagbara’s header in the 12th minute earned the Shooting Stars three points and consolidated their quest for continental ticket  next season.

In the other matches, defending champion, Enyimba of Aba dropped to third position following a disappointing 1-1 scoreline with visiting Bayelsa United.

Alade Balogun put the home side in front in the 20th minute but relegation threatening Bayelsa side restores parity in the 35th minute through Ekeson Okorie.

The result pushed Enyimba to the third position following Remo Stars’ comprehensive 4-1 win over Heartland of Owerri at the Remo Stars Stadium in Ikenne.

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An early goal from Stanley Joseph in the 14th minute and Franck Mawuena in the 38th minute gave the home side respite till the end of the half.

Joseph pushed further with the third goal in the 69th minute just as Jide Fatokun scored another dip into injury time to make Chukwu Emeka’s consolatory goal earlier in the secured inconsequential.

Kwara United won 2-0 at home against Kano Pillars while Niger Tornadoes won 3-2 against Lobi stars and Plateua United compounded Sporting Lagos’ relegation battle with a 2-1 win away in Lagos.

While Bendel Insurance were 2-1 better against Rivers United at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin just as Akwa United enjoyed a 3-1 win over Katsina United and Abia Warrious won 3-1 away at Gombe United.

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