By John Egbokhan
It is becoming increasingly difficult to predict which direction the pendulum will swing in the Nigerian top flight, which enters its19th week tomorrow with some mouthwatering games to savour in the festive season of Ramadam. The last seven days were loaded with surprises, which have been the menu on offer for football followers.
While teams like Sunshine Stars, Enyimba and Wikki Tourists have made the top three their preferred zone, others like Sharks, Heartland and Kano Pillars have moved away from dangerous zones to the relief of their fans who were beginning to wonder what was going wrong with their darling teams.
Whoever says the league train is not moving on strongly must surely be in a trance and there is no better way to knock such a person out of this self-induced slumber than to watch tomorrow’s oriental tango at the Nnamdi Azikwe Stadium, where Rangers International confront rivals Enyimba in a must-see match.
There is no love lost between these two eastern brothers, who appear to come to blows whenever they play each other.
Rangers lay claim to being one of the pioneers of the league and arguably one of the best teams in the country but Enyimba appear to have the bragging rights having won the Champions League twice, the only Nigerian side to have achieved that feat since the inception of Africa’s top tie competition.
Enyimba have enjoyed more stability in terms of funding and management, especially during the two-term regime of Governor Orji Uzor Kalu, while Rangers have endured tales of poor funding by successive Governors of Enugu since 1999.
But the Rangers story seem to be changing this season after Coach Kelechi Emeteole was shown the way out, allowing Coach Imama Amakpakabo to take charge of the Flying Antelopes. Amakpakabo’s regime started on June 14, with a week 11 fixture against Kwara United.
Before that match, they were 11th on the table with 11 points from 10 games, averaging a point per game. But seven matches on, the story has changed as they have stepped up to the seventh position, amassing 27 points, six less than the top three pack of Sunshine Stars, Enyimba and Wikki Tourists.
And they will attempt to close the gap on others when they host Enyimba in a grudge match that is clearly the game of this weekend.
Enyimba seem to have the advantage going into the tie , having thumped Sunshine Stars 3-1 midweek to lay down the gauntlet for the others that they mean business in their quest to wrestle the title from the grips of three-time champions, Kano Pillars.
But Rangers would not surrender easily to their fierce rivals as a home loss would be akin to dropping six points by their fans, who always see the duel with Enyimba as a must-win. Indeed, the stakes are high for coaches Amakpakabo of Rangers and Enyimba’s Kadiri Ikhana as they attempt to steer their respective teams to three points tomorrow.