On this penultimate week of the season, more boxes are likely to be ticked regarding significant and exit positions in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL). For instance, the first of two teams to represent the country in the CAF Confederation Cup next season may be decided, while the other will be decided when the Aiteo Cup is concluded. The CAF Champions League places are already filled by NPFL champions Rivers United and second placed Plateau United.
Also this Sunday, one or more teams may join relegated MFM in the journey to the lower division.
Remo Stars are in pole position to end the season on the third spot and play on the continent for the first time when the CAF Confederation Cup kicks off in August. But the Sky Blue Stars have a crucial game in Akure against Sunshine Stars, whose mathematical chance of toppling the Ikenne-Remo side at No 3 will be over unless they win, and other results go their way. Remo have a five-point advantage over Sunshine, who are four steps behind.
The hosts will however file out remembering their Matchday 17 bashing by Remo who triumphed 3-0 in Ikenne-Remo. If Remo emerged unscathed, their third position is likely to be confirmed.
Chasing Remo closely are Kwara United who are a point shy of the Stars. At home in Ilorin, the Harmony Boys will go up against MFM, who will be playing their last but one match in the topflight. Anything short of victory for Remo in Akure will mean that Kwara will remain in the battle for CAF Confederation Cup ticket up till the last day of the season.
Also in the run for No 3 are the Flying Antelopes of Enugu. Rangers would have wrapped up the continental qualification but for their recent poor showing which now see them fall three points behind Remo.
Rangers will be away to Gombe United who will be seeking maximum points to put any relegation worry to rest. Rangers prevailed by a lone goal in the first leg.
Enyimba and eighth placed Akwa United have also not given up on rattling Remo in the crucial third spot. They are four and five points respectively short of the Ikenne-Remo team.
The People’s Elephant engage second-from-the-bottom Dakkada FC. It is likely to be goodbye to the division for the Uyo side if they lose in Aba.
In Uyo, outgoing champions Akwa United face another team that are not yet out of danger. Abia Warriors are no doubt five steps above the relegation zone, but there is only one point separating them and Katsina United, which lead the bottom four. While Akwa United will be chasing the fast disappearing third position, the Warriors will be focused on assuring their stay in the topflight.
At the other end of the table, Heartland and Katsina United will not like to see themselves in the red zone in the last Matchday of the season. It’s tougher for Heartland than Katsina; the former playing away, while the other team host Plateau United who have nothing at stake.
Heartland will be in Kaduna to challenge hosts Niger Tornadoes. The Ikon Allah team have been impressive in recent time, winning nine of their last 10 home matches; the only setback being the lone goal defeat to Lobi Stars three games ago. Another victory will guarantee that Tornadoes will continue in the NPFL next season.
For Plateau United, their fixture in Katsina is a dead rubber. But not for their hosts. Katsina United need the win desperately to leap out of the relegation zone and enhance their chances of surviving the drop.
Kano Pillars, Shooting Stars, Lobi Stars and Nasarawa United have to produce results as they remain vulnerable. Pillars and Shooting Stars have only superior goal difference keeping them out of the relegation zone, while victory over Pillars will ensure safety for Nasarawa United.
Lobi Stars are a point above the drop zone.
All the matches: Akwa United v Abia Warriors, Enyimba v Dakkada FC, Gombe United v Rangers, Shooting Stars v Rivers United, Katsina United v Plateau United, Sunshine Stars v Remo Stars, Niger Tornadoes v Heartland, Kwara United v MFM, Lobi Stars v Wikki Tourists, Nasarawa United v Kano Pillars (all 4 pm)