When the moment came, nerves taking hold of the Agege Stadium, over 184 million Nigerians and so many more across the globe looking upon him, Ebuka David Odenigbo stalked menacingly towards as he prepared to take the final kick. Like it was written in the stars, the star man for the Tillers, would be the one to, win the HiFL Champions Cup for his team.
As he swung his right foot, his aim true and precise, the shot packed with all the ferocity and determination the team played with, the heavens anticipating this moment with showers, a gritty scoreless draw giving way to a 5-4 victory on penalties that sent red/yellow stripe shirts flooding across the field while in the stands they erupted, celebrating the most improbable success, perhaps the most significant they have ever had. All the work the team had put in these past months began to make sense.
It had been said that they were the luckiest team in the 2018 season, needing the support of their vociferous home support to beat all comers, but they are stood highest, like through champions. It has been said that their opponents, the Malabites were the more composed and balanced team, but they buckled when it matters most. This was Ebri Wofai, UNICAL Malabites captain’s coming out party, a dominant performance in the heart of defense, sadly it wasn’t to be his moment of glory. Ultimately it had been a long, epic evening, exhaustion and anxiety preparing an explosion. To resist is to win, as Juan Negrín famously declared. UAM Tillers had resisted, all right. Thoroughly dominated for 90 minutes but like true champions they persevered.
UNICAL Malabites shot at goal a whopping 11 times but could not shoot down the Tillers. As the clock winded down, Coach Jimoh gesticulated widely as his team contrived once again to miss when it seemed easier to score. No one would feel more aggrieved that midfield dazzler Charles Ufot who created chance after chance for his team only to see his goal shy strikers squander them all. They did deserve to lose in the end simply because at this level there’s no second chance yet when they look back on the match, Malabites will reflect that they fell short, wondering how they lost a match that they controlled for 90 minutes.
Truly, it was written in the stars for the ecstatic Tillers and the scenes of mass ecstasy in the Agege Stadium and, no doubt, all over Markudi would attest to that. Their team was thoroughly outclassed and outplayed on the day but they hung on and played with admirable determination, girt and discipline - and the luckless Malabites couldn’t muster any more classy attributes as the game chugged to a shootout. It was boring for long periods, though always tense, but none of that will bother UAM Tillers, who are worthy Champions.
In the third place play-off played earlier in the day, OAU Giants managed to put smiles on the faces of their travelling fans with a 3 – 1 whitewash of UNILORIN Warriors. Captain fantastic Olumofe James was once again instrumental as he pulled the strings from his advanced midfield position to lead his side to the bronze medal.