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Kaduna on fire as Pillars battle Tornadoes for Aiteo Cup’s N25M

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Kano Pillars

It is nothing but the trophy this term. That is the assurance players and officials of Kano Pillars have given their supporters, who watched agonisingly last year as their darling team squandered a 3-0 lead to lose the Aiteo Cup to Enugu Rangers at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba.

That miss affected the Sai Masu Gida so much that it took the Kano team a long while to get back their rhythm in the 2018/2019 season.

Now having qualified for a go at the CAF Confederation Cup through their third-place finish in the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) last season, Kano Pillars want to reward their teeming fans with Aiteo Cup glory today at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna.

 
Standing in their way is Niger Tornadoes, a team that surprisingly lost their Premier League status earlier in the year.

Tornadoes say they would show their fans that the NPFL mishap was just a blip in a season that has already offered them a CAF Confederation Cup ticket courtesy of their presence in today’s Aiteo Cup final.

But before the two northern teams tango, Women Cup holders, Rivers Angels of Port Harcourt will attempt to retain their trophy when they clash with Nasarawa Amazons of Lafia by 2.00 p.m.
 
Rivers Angels have maintained a vice grip on the women’s competition, having won eight of the past nine editions, with only Sunshine Queens of Akure (2015) breaking their streak.
  
Tornadoes, from Minna, have their own ghosts to exorcise. Having played delightful football under floodlights at the Agege Stadium, Lagos in 2017, they were put to the sword by Akwa United after penalty shoot-out following a scoreless regulation period.
 
Tornadoes have alone the previous triumph in the competition, after defeating Enugu Rangers 1-0 in 2000 final. But Pillars are still looking for their first win in the oldest competition in the land and the second oldest in Africa, with only two runners-up position to their name. This is despite tremendous success in the League.

 
While Kano Pillars believe the trophy is their own for the asking, Niger Tornadoes have different ideas.

“Many people believe that Kano Pillars will have it easy against us simply because we got relegated to the lower division,” observed Niger Tornadoes’ veteran goalkeeper and captain, Mustapha Aliko. “We have won the Cup (Tornadoes beat Enugu Rangers 1-0 in the 2000 edition) before and technically, I don’t think we are inferior to Kano Pillars. 
 
“It is true that they parade some of the best players around but that is not to say we won’t be able to play our game. If they believe we are underdogs in this match, they will receive a rude shock. In addition, AITEO Cup is always full of surprises.”
 
However, in the camp of Kano Pillars, there is robust optimism. “What you (Kano Pillars) have achieved is a unique feat,” Kano State’s Deputy Governor, Dr. Nasiru Yusuf Gawuna was quoted as saying. “You have made it back-to-back in the final. You were there (in the final) last year and you are there again this year; Insha Allah (by the grace of God), that Cup is ours.”
 
And even though both teams have pocketed tickets to continental campaigns ahead today, the mouth-watering cash prize on offer for the winning team is a big incentive to push both to optimum performance.
 
At stake are prize monies of N25 million for the winner of the men’s competition and N10 million for the winner of the women’s competition. The runner–up for the men’s competition will pocket N10 million, with the runner –up for the women’s event is going home with N5 million.


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