The Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) Invitational kicks-off today in Kano state.
The tournament, holding at the Sani Abacha Stadium, will provide the six teams competing with the chance to have one final chance at oiling their machines before the competitive season begins in January.
NPFL champions, Plateau United, last season’s runners-up MFM FC, seven-time champions, Enyimba and current AITEO Cup holders, Akwa United will be joined by hosts and four-time champions, Kano Pillars and the Super Eagles billed to participate in next year’s African Nations Championship (CHAN) in the pre-season tournament.
Prior to the NPFL Invitational, Akwa United, Enyimba, Kano Pillars, Plateau United and MFM have been very busy with pre-season games across the country. Title holders Plateau United have had an underwhelming performance in their pre-season games so far, losing to Kano Pillars and promoted Kwara United.
Akwa United, Enyimba, Kano Pillars and MFM have racked up decent results in pre-season and their managers will look to continue in same stead in this dress rehearsal before the season kicks off on January 14.
One of the managers, Paul Aigbogun, was recently appointed to take charge at Enyimba. It is a return for Aigbogun and he has the task of building a team to compete in the NPFL, AITEO Cup and CAF Confederation Cup next year. Already, the Peoples Elephant have brought in new players in Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Chinedu Udeagha, Abdulrahman Bashir, Austine Oladapo, Yinka Onaolapo and Wasiu Alalade, as well as Ghanaian Farouk Mohammed.
Head coach of AITEO Cup winners, Abdu Maikaba is already planning for the possible absence of his key players, who could feature in the CHAN next month. Etim Matthew, Ajibola Otegbeye, Kelly Kester, Adesina Gata, Dennis Nya and Gabriel Wassa are among the new signings at the Promise Keepers.
MFM moved quick in the off-season to replace Stephen Odey with Victor Mbaoma from Remo Stars and the young striker is showing signs of promise as he scored three times in pre-season. Mbaoma’s teammate at Remo Stars, Oche Salefu also joined the Olukoya Boys but is doubtful for the opening game against Akwa United today. The Olukoya Boys also have Wilfred Ammeh and ex-Warri Wolves striker, Zinte Udeh for the tournament.
Kano Pillars are beginning to look like Enyimba as they added petite midfielder Nzube Anaezemba and Ibrahim Mustapha to their playing personnel. They already have former Enyimba players in Chinedu Udoji, Emmanuel Anyanwu, Sikiru Kamal and Idris Aloma.
Amos Gyang, Charles Henlong, Rafael Ayagwa, Tosin Omoyele, King Osanga, Ibrahim Akide and goalkeeper Okiemute Odah have all teamed up with the league champions for the new campaign. Surely there will be competition for places for some of Plateau United’s top performers as their head coach, Kennedy Boboye seeks to find the right balance in their title defence and on the continent.
Plateau United will begin to have the feel and pressure that comes with being champions of one of the most difficult championship in the world when they face Enyimba in the opening game of the tournament. The champions and Enyimba also have the Super Eagles to contend with in Group A of the NPFL Invitational.