By Olamide O. Abe
LAGOS — University of Maiduguri defeated Adekunle Ajasin University 1-0, to win the 2021 Higher Institutions Football League.
The 2021 grand finale, played on Saturday at the Yabatech Sports Pavilion was however different from the 2018 and 2019 final which ended 0-0 and 1-1 respectively at the end of regulation time.
This time, UNIMAID deservedly won without extra time through the team’s Captain, Oche Francis Elijah, when he headed home a cross from Abdulrahman Musa in the 60th minute.
The game, however, almost took a twist nine minutes later when AAUA’s Emmanuel Ologbon squandered his team’s best opportunity to get an equalizer.
As part of the super 4, the competition’s third-place match between University of Nigeria, Nsukka and Federal University of Technology, Minna was earlier played under heavy rainfall and it ended 2-1 in favour of the UNN Lions.
It was however different from previous editions third-place matches as OAU Giants and UNILORIN Warriors both played the loser’s final match in 2018 and 2019.
HiFL is the most coveted higher institutions football competition in Nigeria organized in partnership with the Nigerian University Games Association (NUGA) and sponsored by Stanbic IBTC, Bold, Nivea Men and Minimie.
Recall, Glitzsport** reported that the third edition could not be held for HiFL in 2020 due to the lockdown and extensive restrictions caused by Covid-19 pandemic.
It is worth noting that the Malabites of the University of Calabar are defending champions after hoisting the trophy in 2019 following the achievements of the UAM Tillers who lifted the inaugural cup in 2018.
ROAD TO FINAL
The Desert Warriors of UNIMAID came into the finals as the highest-scoring team in the knockout phase with 11 goals after seeing off competitions from BUK Stallions, UAM Tillers and FUTMINNA Transformers.
It was an endurance trip for the Luminaries of AAUA, overcoming adversities in the Coastal Conference against OAU Giants, UNILAG Marines and UNN Lions with just a meager of three goals throughout the knockout stage.
WHAT THEY SAID
Talking to Glitzsport, UNIMAID’s coach, Daniel Dauda was full of appreciation and he commended the hasteful adaptivity of his players to the new environs.
“This is the first time UNIMAID is getting to the finals and we have won the match due to good preparation from the beginning. We’ve been supported financially, morally by the university community and this is the result of our hardwork.
“I give kudos to a lot of this guys because this is the first time they’ll be coming to a place like Lagos to play football. Lagos itself is a different City in Nigeria. I just told them, guys be yourself, look at that trophy there, it is us for the taking, this is our day,” he said.
“I am very happy and emotional, everything is good now and we are very excited. Our future is bright, it’s now next for us to go and plan ahead.
“HiFL is one of the greatest platform to showcase your talent, because we can’t be here without them. This type of competition will make us see great talent that are hidden in the university.”
All is not lost for AUAA, it has been a historic 2021 season for the Luminaries as they became the first state-owned University to qualify for the Super Four and also to play in the final of HiFL.
The team’s coach, Joseph Abuo applauded his players and envisaged what to expect from the Akungba Akoko boys come next year.
“The boys tried, having combining Education and Football together is not easy. All we need to do now is to go back to the drawing board and work on where we are having lapses. We will come out waxing stronger ever than now.
“You should be expecting another team entirely that will give whoever we are going to meet a very tough time. We have admitted new students that are very promising and are elite footballers,” he said.
Where there is a will, there is a way. AAUA‘s captain, Omotayo Oluwatobi also echoed the opinion of his gaffer with so much optimism of delivering rising to the occasion in 2022.
“We feel bad, in football, you win some and you lose some so we’ll go back to our drawing boards and work on our mistakes. We are coming back stronger for a better result to win the tournament next year.
“The players coming up after us will consolidate on this result and understand that their predecessors actually tried to achieve a great feat. They can always do better than this,” he concluded.
Though, the winner of HiFL was provisionally scheduled to represent Nigeria at the Universiade (FISU World University Games) but the creation of a biennial FISU University Football World Cup means there won’t be a representative until at least 2023 in Jinjiang, China.
But Coach Daniel is still very confident of UNIMAID being on the crest of a wave beyond the borders of Nigeria.
He said, “We can go to FISU for victory, we will start preparing to conquer the world as a serious community that we are. If some other people can do it. Why not us.”