One can understand the excitement over the imminent end to the three-decade wait for a trophy that Rangers International – one of the historical clubs in the Nigerian league – has had to endure. Their 2-1 away win at Ikorodu United coupled with Rivers United being held at home to a goalless draw by Abia Warriors has placed the Flying Antelopes (as Rangers are fondly called) on the verge of league victory for the first time since 1984.
However, even though many media outlets, pundits, fans and even players have declared Rangers as winners of the current NPFL season, the truth is that they not just have to wait, but need to stay focused and avoid an upset in their final match, in order to actually become champions. With just one matchday left in the NPFL, Rangers (60 points) are 3 points ahead of nearest rivals, Rivers United (who are another success story of the merger of two struggling clubs); with FC Ifeanyiubah 4 points adrift with 56 points. It is therefore a two-horse race for the league title.
So, it turns out that Rangers would have to lose at home to El-Kanemi Warriors (Rangers have not lost a home game this season; El-Kanemi are yet to record an away win this season), while Rivers United would need a win away from home at Akwa United. On top of this, Rangers would have to lose a 4-goal-difference advantage (e.g. Rangers losing 1-0 and Rivers winning 4-0). Where clubs have equal points, the League Rules (Rule A3) reckon with goal-difference, and then goals scored, ahead of the ‘head-to-head rule’. However, Rangers are superior to Rivers United on all counts.
Admittedly, unless all the elements one can think of conspire against Rangers, they should be confirmed as league champions on the final matchday, this Sunday (2nd October 2016); but there is still a game to play and at least a point to be earned to secure the title.
Understandably, there is hardly any doubt that this is Rangers season. The mathematical permutations here are taking nothing away from the beautiful brand of football, the free-flow of goals (Rangers tally of 49 goals so far is at least 5 goals more than any other team in the league this season), the charisma and vibrancy of their coaching and team management crew, which have all the hallmarks of worthy champions. Indeed, since the last title win in 1984 with a vintage squad, the current crop of players and officials at Rangers appear to be bringing the glory days back to the club and the ‘Cathedral’ (as the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium – home of Rangers – has been rechristened lately) now boasts of captivating and memorable matchday experiences, as captured by China “Ikwerreman” Acheru.
Even in the course of winding up this piece, it becomes increasingly clear that there is hardly anything that will stop a coronation service from taking place at the Cathedral this Sunday. So, barring any bizarre set of circumstances, be sure to watch out for the thunderous chants of “Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Enugu Rangers, another Champion!” which is set to again be a hallmark of the league in the league in the coming years and hopefully in the CAF Champions League next season.