Rangers International literally came back from the dead, scoring three quick goals in 15 minutes to cancel out three goals by Kano Pillars to win the FA/ AITEO Cup on Wednesday night at the Stephen Keshi stadium in Asaba.
Rangers thus broke a 35- year jinx of continuous hits and misses in several finals since the last time they beat the defunct DIC Bees to win the title way back in 1983.
An N25 million prize money and a chance to be Nigeria’s flagbearers in next year’s CAF Confederations Cup indeed raised the stakes as both teams stepped into the lush green Asaba stadium pitch to try each other for size before a mammoth crowd of spectators which included supporters of both teams.
But it was Kano Pillars who drew the first blood with captain Rabiu Ali hitting the curtain raiser as early as the 5th minute.
Ibrahim Alhassan would increase the tally when he headed in the second in the 21st minute as Rangers struggled to contain their northern opponents.
And by the time Nyima Nwagua scored the third goal in the 50th minute, it was all looking like sealed, signed and delivered for Pillars.
But as has been customary in their journey in the competition up to that point, Pillars would again press the self-destruct button, allowing Rangers to come back. And in an inexplicable moment of madness, they conceded three goals in 15 minutes.
Rangers had found a way through their opponent’s time-wasting tactics by pressuring them to make mistakes in their vital area. as Kelvin Itoye, No 8- shirted Eze and Ajani Ibrahim all scored to take the game to penalties.
As expected, Pillars would lose the plot completely in the shootout as their confidence took flight. They could only manage scoring two of their spot kicks, while Rangers scored all four to end it 4-2 on penalties.
On a day the Nigerian Football Federation( NFF) decided to hold its AGM, the thrilling AITEO Cup final was a fitting finale as governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa played the perfect host.