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Coaches share exciting moments, challenges of university football

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In advanced societies, schools, especially higher institutions, serve as nurseries for talents, who graduate to become world-class stars. Countries such as the United States (where the NCCA rules collegiate soccer) and other developed countries, see universities’ sports as the first window that showcases the latent talents in the school system.

In Nigeria, the National Universities Games (NUGA) and other tertiary institutions sports associations serve the same purpose as the NCAA.

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Recently, NUGA in conjunction with Pace Sports and Entertainment Marketing Company launched the Higher Institutions Football League (HiFL), which aims to open a vista for students to showcase their football talent. Started in 2018 with just a few schools, the HiFL has become the biggest attraction in universities’ sports, with every talented footballer in the system looking forward to featuring in the competition.

As the 2021 season heats up with the Round of 16 matches set to commence in July, coaches of qualified teams are already talking tough in preparation for the games.

From the 25 teams that started from the preliminary stage, 16 teams have emerged from the five groups. They are KSU Steelers, UNIMAID Desert Warriors, FUTMINNA Transformers, ABU Nobles and LAUTECH Hunters.

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Also in the mix are FUTA Tigers, UNIBEN Royals, AAUA Luminaries, IAUE Minders and UNN Lions, BUK Stallions, UNICAL Malabities, UNILORIN Warriors, OAU Giants, UAM Tillers and the UNILAG Marines.

Looking forward to a successful outing this term, UNN Lions Coach, Ike Chijioke, said qualifying for the last 16 is an indication that the team means business. He said, “it was not an easy thing to do when you are working with the students, unlike clubs that are meant to train day in day out.

“For this reason, I told my boys to train regularly towards the success of the qualification.”

The quality of football and organisation of the competition has improved so much that fans are guaranteed good football.

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Speaking on his experience so far, the UNN coach said, “The pitches were okay and the organisers made available the necessary logistics to facilitate the games and make them easy-going. The participating teams and the spectators also did well, the officiating was okay, no matter what the outcome is we will try to play our games, I will give the organizers 90 per cent.”

Also speaking on the competition this term, OAU Giants Coach, Chike Egbunu, said, “people are becoming more interested in the HiFL leagues and that is cheering. Three years ago, people were sceptical about it but now the game is gaining popularity and everybody wants to be a part of it.”

On maintaining the league’s integrity, Egbunu said, “I like the organisers’ discipline in this regard. I like the fact that the organisers don’t mince their words. I love the fact that if there are only 10 teams that meet the criteria at the deadline, then let it be. In Nigeria, we are used to the extension of time or thinking no, it can’t be. So, I like the fact that the organisers put their feet down by saying if you don’t do this before this day, it is over. I want them to continue like that.”

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On the qualifiers, Egbunu said, “I love the atmosphere so much and the games. The standard was tight, the competition was keen and the interest was high. I like the officiating too because if the officiating was not fair and the home loses, there would have been mayhem. Two of the teams that hosted the qualifiers did not qualify and nothing happened because the officiating was very fair.”

While the action on the pitch is important to the schools, most of the coaches, however, see HiFL as the avenue that would provide other opportunities to grow their carrier.

IAUE Minders’ Coach, David Egbiri, disclosed, “I have registered my team in the Port Harcourt league. That means my team is playing in a league and you know what that means regarding keep the players in shape. Every week, the boys are exposed to games in preparation for the HiFL games.”

While HiFL has provided an avenue for players to market their talents, KSU Steelers Coach, Omachoko Idakwo, has advised the organisers to ensure the standard remains high. “The students were happy participating in the qualifiers, even some of them are humbler than they were before and they want to play. If things like these are happening all the time with the support of the vice-chancellors of all the universities, the students will enjoy themselves and it will go beyond this because of the friendship and the contacts they make in the process.”

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