By Andah John
Many followers and lovers of Nigerian football (I mean club football) are drenched in excitement. Why? The Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) is Back!
Rangers begin their title defence today against Abia Warriors in an Oriental Derby as Match Day 1 of the 2016/17 Nigeria Professional Football League season continues on Sunday with nine games.
The champions will hope to kick off their campaign on a winning note but against the Warriors from Abia, a difficult game is expected. The Umuahia-based side have not lost an opening-season game since their promotion to the elite division in 2014 (2D, 1W).
However, the Flying Antelopes have a huge record over their visitors. They have never lost to them. Both sides have played six times. Rangers won three, the rest finished in draws. And those victories came at The Cathedral, venue of today’s game.
Other matches on Sunday will see seven-time champions Enyimba host Sunshine Stars at their adopted home, U.J. Esuene stadium in Calabar.
Many league faithful do not fancy Enyimba’s chances this season as they’ve let go of many key players without adequate replacement.
But captain of the Aba side and record goalscorer, Mfon Udoh, believes the Peoples Elephant can challenge for the title, regardless. He spoke with npfl.ng.
“I strongly believe Enyimba can reclaim the league title. It is possible and we are ready for the challenge. This is a target we must work towards.
“The team is highly motivated. The technical crew and players have been doing a great job in pre-season. The spirit in camp is high and we are committed to this course.”
There is another potentially intriguing game today. It’s a battle between stars as five-time Nigerian champions Shooting Stars square off against 1999 kings, Lobi Stars.
That is a repeat of last season’s opening game, which saw The Pride of Benue beat the Oluyole Warriors in Ibadan 1-0.
And close to Ibadan is a game between Nduka Ugbade’s newcomers Remo Stars and Plateau United in Sagamu.
Also, last season’s second-placed side Rivers United will open their campaign at home against Ladan Bosso’s El-kanemi Warriors.
Rivers swum fantastically well at home in the last campaign. They won 16 of the 18 games they played at the Yakubu Gowon stadium in Port Harcourt, drawing the remaining two. And they should fancy their chances against the Maiduguri side who have not won on the road since 2013, drawing only 12 times in 56 games.
Let’s go to Nigeria’s northeast region where Mohammed Baba Ganaru will reunite with his former side as Bauchi club Wikki Tourists host Nasarawa United.
NPFL returnees ABS FC have Abdu Maikaba’s Akwa United to contend as top-flight football returns to the ancient city of Ilorin, while MFM FC begin their second season in Nigeria’s apex league at home against Niger Tornadoes.
And finally, the Karkanda stadium will host the battle of two returnees when Katsina United and Gombe United go toe-to-toe.
Enyimba FC Vs Sunshine Stars
Enugu Rangers Vs Abia Warriors
MFM FC Vs Niger Tornadoes
Shooting Stars Vs Lobi Stars
ABS FC Vs Akwa United
Remo Stars Vs Plateau United
Katsina United Vs Gombe United
Rivers United Vs Elkanemi Warriors
Wikki Tourists Vs Nasarawa United.