Reigning Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) champions, Enyimba International of Aba, and Nigeria National League (NNL) side, Yobe Desert Stars of Damaturu, booked their tickets for the Naija Super 8 finals in Lagos, after winning their zonal play-off matches at the Eket Township Stadium on Saturday.
Enyimba edged Heartland 1-0 in a cagy ‘Oriental Derby’, while Yobe Stars produced the first upset in the Naija Super 8 play-offs with a 2-1 victory over NPFL side, Gombe United.
In the keenly contested South-East derby, Heartland recorded the first shot on target in the 14th minute, but it was Enyimba who opened the scoring in the 25th minute through Murphy Ndukwe.
The People’s Elephant had a chance to double their lead in the 39th minute, but fluffed their lines from close range. Heartland pushed for the equaliser and drew another fine save from Enyimba goalkeeper, Olorunkeke Ojo in the 43rd minute.
Both teams cancelled each other out for most of the second half, as they struggled to create clear cut chances. Heartland managed another shot on target in the 69th minute which was repelled by Olorunkeke. Enyimba had a big opportunity to double their lead in the 87th minute, but Eriugo fired his shot wide.
Despite the victory, Enyimba coach, Finidi George, was not totally happy with his team’s performance.
“We knew it was going to be difficult. Happy we won but not happy the way we played, especially in the second half. Overall, we had chances to score a second goal, but I am not happy about the play. We were lucky they didn’t get an equaliser,” he said.
On how his team will approach the Naija Super 8 finals, George said “It’s going to be a different ball game. We know how to play those types of tournaments.”
Earlier in the day, Yobe Stars dominated the opening stanza of the North-East derby with their crisp passing. The Desert Stars drew a brilliant save from Gombe United goalkeeper with a long-range freekick in the 21st minute and hit the bar nine minutes later.
Gombe United were uncoordinated, especially in the final third and were duly punished on 40 minutes by Tony Elaigwu, whose close- control allowed him to elude his marker before poking the ball into the net. The Desert Stars kept the momentum and were rewarded with another goal by Shuaibu Adamu in the 45th minute.
Gombe United began the second half on the front foot and were rewarded for their effort when Ogunjimi Samuel converted a free header from close range in the 54th minute. The NPFL side pushed desperately for the equaliser, but their task became more difficult, after Sadiq Shuaibu was sent off in the 82nd minute. The ten men almost snatched a late equaliser, but were denied by a goal-line clearance.
Naija Super 8 finals will be held at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena in Lagos from 7-16 July. The tournament is organised by Flykite Productions in partnership with MultiChoice Nigeria and sponsors, MTN, Hero Lager, DStv, GOtv, SuperSport, Moniepoint, Pepsi and Custodian Assurance.