Anticipation for the second scheduled match on Saturday 27th May, between Cullen FC and Tiki Taka FC, had reached a fever-pitched high. The crowd had been treated to a 4-goal thriller between Avengers and Clay FC, which essentially secured a spot in the finals for the Avengers. Both Cullen and Tiki Taka, who were on the verge of elimination from the SLN Challenge Cup were fully aware of the stakes which could be summarized in simple terms – Win or go home.
The first half was a case of both teams testing each other out. It was obvious both teams were trying to exert their influence in the midfield, while being cautious not to concede early in the game. As the game progressed, the playing field slowly opened up. Dare Orepitan was able to meander through the midfield and passed the ball across to Daddy Bazuaye. A quick body feign to the right of the defender opened up a little space to his left and he immediately switched lanes to explore the opening. His first shot on goal was comfortably saved by Gabriel Igwe. From thereon, the pressure kept mounting. A series of free kicks were given outside the box, and the Tiki Taka defenders held their ground by making sure the wall stood firm.
Both teams battled through the first half until a quick inter-change between Charles Omowaiye and Sam Ojeyinka created some space in Cullen’s defense. The inability of Cullen’s defense to clear their lines resulted in a loose ball falling kindly to Charles’ right foot; and he promptly curved a delicious ball into the back-post.
There was also another attempt, when Charles made a quick inter-play with Kennedy Onyia and raced down the left flank. After breaking free, Charles lobbed the ball across the goal, and Ife Adebiyi missed a glaring opportunity to score a header. There were a few more chances between both teams, which resulted in no goals by the end of 1st half.
The second half was a different storyline altogether. Cullen FC came out roaring and Tiki Taka were on the backfoot for a significant part of the game. Cullen’s entire team operated as a compact unit and contested every ball. The pressure kept mounting until a goal keeping error gifted Cullen’s striker, Yomi Ibagbeola the ball, which he promptly tapped into the goal.
But that wasn’t enough for Cullen. They continued to make direct runs at the defense and a quick inter-play of passes between Daddy Bazuaye and Yomi Ibagbeola freed up some space, which he took advantage off. Yomi broke into a run on the right flank and passed the ball across goal to the incoming Dare Orepitan, who dutifully tapped it into the net.
The final goal was one which everyone who has been watching Cullen’s matches would be accustomed to. A free kick opportunity was presented to Daddy Bazuaye, and with his left foot, hammered the ball from an obscure angle into the far corner of post – beyond the reach of the diving goal keeper. This goal makes it 3 consecutive free kicks in 3 games for Daddy Bazuaye, and he happens to be the current front runner for the “Golden Boot” award. There was one more attempt when a through-ball was launched from deep by a Cullen FC midfielder. Daddy Bazuaye broke out into a run to beat the offside trap, just before the last defender could react. He promptly dribbled the keeper, and neatly side-stepped the onrushing defender who had caught up with him – and then played the final ball towards the goal. The striker and all the spectators were left wide-eyed and collectively gasped in disbelief, as the ball agonizingly rolled slowly to the side of the goal post!
Beyond the missed opportunity, the damage had already been done and Cullen FC were able to progress to the finals on a high note. The battle for the maiden SLN Challenge Cup will be determined on Saturday 3rd June, and based on history between the two qualifying teams, it promises to be a showpiece event.
Who do you think will win? Cullen FC or DC Eagles Avengers?