AITEO CUP: SUNSHINE STARS’ DREAMS LEFT IN RUINS AS IFEANYI’S LATE STRIKE SENDS AKWA INTO FINAL

Akwa United secured their second Federation Cup final in three years following a 3-1 win over Sunshine Stars in the semi-final second leg tie in Uyo on Sunday.

Ifeanyi Ifeanyi’s dramatic late strike booked Abdu Maikaba’s side a place in next Sunday’s final in Agege.

Akwa went into the game on the back of an impressive home run – which saw them spank Shooting Stars 5-1 and Katsina United B, 7-1. And having lost the first leg in Ijebu Ode by just 1-0, the Uyo side were widely tipped to progress. Yes, they got the result they needed but, in truth, it was a laboured victory.

The visitors went behind on 35 minutes when Cyril Olisemah’s delightful half-volley from inside the box beat Henry Ayodele in the Sunshine goal.

Christian Pyagbara bundled home Ifeanyi’s freekick over the line on the hour mark to double the lead.

Franklin Sasere silenced the home crowd when he pulled one back from close range.

However, Ifeanyi smashed into the roof of the net to book Maikaba’s men a place in the final.

The Promise Keepers dominated the early stages but their ineffectiveness in the final third meant Ayodele was barely troubled.

It took 35 minutes for the opener to arrive. Kodjovi Dadzie headed Ubong Friday’s deflected cross to Pyabara. The forward chested down into the path of Olisema, who controlled with his stomach before hitting a brilliant half-volley past Ayodele from 15 yards.

Six minutes before the break, Ajibola Otegbeye nearly put Duke Udi’s side level when he latched onto a through ball. The forward left Akwa big centre-back Emmanuel Ariwa sprawling on the turf, but smashed a brilliant shot against the cross bar.

Fifteen minutes after the interval, Pyagbara netted his seventh goal of the competition, scoring from close range off Ifeanyi’s freekick to give his side a 2-1 aggregate lead.

Ezekiel Thompson caused panic in the Akwa defence when he cut onto his left before sending a curling shot towards the far post. Olorunleke Ojo had to dive to deny the substitute.

Sasere finished off a fine move that started from the back, five minutes from time to halve the deficit. Ezekiel Boboye sent a pass to Otegbeye, whose brilliant dummy allowed the ball roll to Sasere. The substitute controlled with his left before slotting past Olorunleke with his right. The away side’s bench celebrated wildly. With the away-goals rule in effect, it meant the Akure side would progress.

The ecstasy was, however, short-lived as Ifeanyi restored the home team’s two-goal advantage. Substitute Chigozie Chilekwu launched a long throw into the Sunshine box, Michael Ibe flicked the ball to Olisema. The playmaker lost the ball after a poor control, but pressure from Pyagbara and Ibe forced the Sunshine defence to play the ball into the path of Ifeanyi, who unleashed a fierce shot from just inside the area beyond a sea of players and into the back of the net.

The goal – the midfielder’s first of the season – ensured the Uyo side reached their second final in three years, where they will face Niger Tornadoes•

Akwa United Starting XI:

Ojo Olorunleke 30, Otobong Effiong 16
Kodjovi Dadzie 31, Aremu Afeez 6
Godspower Igudia 35, Ariwachukwu Emmanuel 15, Ubong Friday 7
Musa Newman 9, Christian Pyagbara 10, Ifeanyi Ifeanyi 24, Cyril Olisema 26

Reserve:

Ishmaila Shagari 18, Counou Paterne 5, Micheal Ibeh 23, Chigozie Chilekwu 3, Hassan Babangida 8, Amaechi Orji 14, Gabriel Okechukwu 25

Head Coach: Abdu Maikaba

Sunshine Stars Starting XI:

Henry Ayodele 22, Ezekiel Boboye 4
Ajibola Otegbeye 8, Abiodun Joseph 11, Anthony Omaka 14, Sikiru Alimi 17, Dayo Ojo 18, Kehinde Adedipe 24, Nojeem Raji 25, Oke Ogagotewho 27, Alaba Adeniyi 29 (C)

Reserves:
Olumide Akinroyeje 23, Rock Durand 5, Seun Olulayo 6, Franklin Sasere 9, Kelechi Ogoh 31, Ezekiel Thompson 20, Michael Okoyoh 30

Head Coach: Duke Udi

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