As the final round of the group stage approaches, Clay FC has emerged as the team to beat. The team has stayed as a cohesive unit so far, and set their sights on only one objective – To be the team to lift the maiden edition of the SLN Challenge Cup. Under the coaching management of Joshua Isaiah and Afam Anikpo, the duo have been able to effectively manage the expectations of team members through rotations to keep players fresh, made tactical substitutions as necessary, and inspired the team with half time briefings. Where other teams have struggled with bench players vocally expressing their discontent, there is an obvious camaraderie and almost tangible team spirit within the team as confidence continues to soar after each match.
Clay FC burst unto the tournament scene with a convincing 2-0 win against Tiki Taka FC. The game could easily have ended with a 5-goal margin as the attacking players marauded Tiki’s defense with incisive runs, good ball movement and tactical discipline in all areas of the pitch.
The 2nd group game with Cullen FC was a true test of their mettle. During the pre-game interview with the two coaches, both revealed they were fully aware of the potential threat Cullen FC posed, and the objective was to match the opponent in every area of the field with the hope of nicking winning goal – After all, they were topping the table.
No goals were scored in the first half. However, during the 2nd half of play, Daddy Bazuaye of Cullen FC showed no signs of slowing down on his goal streak as he rifled yet another piledriver free kick, which took a slight deflection and flew past the on-looking goal keeper.
The 2nd half was quite feisty and required the teams to dig deep. The two teams fought and grappled for every ball, covered every square meter of grass, and kept the pressure on full throttle through the match.
As the clock slowly inched to the last ten minutes, Cullen FC began to wind down the game and made a flurry of substitutions during a dead ball in Clay FC’s favor. While this happened, it appeared there were miscommunications with the assistant referee, and in a bid to keep the game going, the center referee signaled the game to continue.
It was obvious that Felix Nava, who had missed the first match, was one of the key substitute players whom the coach planned to utilize for certain tactical reasons. Each time there was a set piece, he was the default player to make the play and it was obvious why – He’s pretty good at it.
With a quick gaze from the midpoint area of the sidelines to Cullen FC’s 18-yard box, he was able to single out Eze Arinze, and launched an exquisite lofted ball with pin-point accuracy. Eze deftly made a quick darting run into the box and rose above the defenders who were caught off-guard, and headed the ball into the back-post. This brought a thunderous reaction of joy from the supporters of Clay FC, and expectedly, protests from Cullen’s players – but the score line stood.
With Tiki Taka’s win over their local rivals (Avengers), the table currently has Clay FC leading with 4 Points, Tiki Taka FC as runner-ups with 3 Points, Cullen FC in 3rd place with 2 Points and Avengers FC trailing with 1 Point. This weekend’s match-ups between Avengers FC Vs Clay FC, and Cullen FC Vs Tiki Taka FC is guaranteed to bring out the best in all teams. Obviously, every team needs to win their final group game to stand a chance of qualifying for the next and final round, and Avengers is in the most precarious position of them all. Avengers’ desperately need a win and nothing less, and will be looking to end Clay’s unbeaten streak. Although a draw will probably get Clay FC into the next round, the team players appear motivated to maintain their unbeaten status and finish the entire campaign on a high.