Rangers International of Enugu have yet again reclaimed Nigeria's national cup currently known as the AITEO Cup after they came from three goals down to tie the game against Kano Pillars but eventually won 4-2 on penalties at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba.
Wednesday's win was the first for the self-styled Flying Antelopes in 35 years when they edged Defence Industry Corporation otherwise known as DIC Bess of Kaduna 5-4 penalties in the 1983 finals. It was also the club's sixth win in the history of the country's oldest club competition including three successive wins in 1974, 1975 and 1976 as well as their 1981 triumph against Bendel Insurance.
Just two years ago, Rangers broke their duck when they won the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) title after 32 years hiatus and success in this year's AITEO Cup is further testimony of their revival.
Yet in only the first ever final to be played under floodlights since the competition started in 1942, Kano Pillars were seemingly coasting home to their first cup glory after they kept their nose in front at the Stephen Keshi Stadium with two goals under the first twenty minutes of play courtesy of captain Rabiu Ali and midfielder Alhassan Ibrahim who scored directly from the corner kick.
Five minutes into the second half, Nyima Nwagwua added the third goal as Kano Pillars pulled away only for Rangers to halt their stride in the finale moment of the enthralling encounter.
Substitute Kelvin Itoya started Rangers' revival with a goal in the 79th minute which was four minutes later by Chidera Ezeh while substitute completed the rally with a diving header a minute into the extra time.
In the resultant penalty shootout, Kano Pillars missed twice from the spot while their former defender Isaac Loute scored the decisive kick to send Rangers faithful into a state of unbridled excitement.
Striker Itoya who sparked off Rangers come back blitz noted the victory depicted the 'Never-say-die' spirit of the club.
This victory can only be God and we give him all the glory, explained the 22-year-old.It was a very tough match but I told myself that the match was far from being over when I came on and I got the first goal; it showed our 'Never-Say-Die ' fighting spirit and God crowned our efforts with this great success.
Success in the AITEO Cup guaranteed Rangers' slot in next year's CAF Confederation Cup and a princely sum of 25 Million Naira (about $68,868.62 USD ) in prize while Kano Pillars will pocket 10 Million Naira (about $27,547.45 USD).
In the meantime, Rivers Angels of Port Harcourt are proud winners of the AITEO Women's Cup for the third successive years after they decimated Ibom Angels 1-0 in the final earlier played on Tuesday at the Samson Siasia Stadium in Yenagoa.
It was the club's record eighth win in the last nine finals since 2010 after missing out of the honour's list in 2015 and they pocket Ten Million Naira (about $27,547.45 USD) for this year's success.
Source: Confederation Africaine de Football