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NPFL: With Rangers as champions, others scramble for continental tickets, survival

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Rangers emerged champions of the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) with one Matchday to spare after they defeated Bendel Insurance 2-0 at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium on Sunday.

The other three contenders for the title, Remo Stars, 3SC and champions Enyimba, all dropped points in their respective matches, paving way for the Flying Antelopes to win their eighth title of Nigeria’s top division.

A goal in each from Kenechukwu Agu and Chidiebere Nwobodo secured maximum points for Rangers to become champions.

However, the season still has the final Matchday to navigate with one continental place each up grabs in the CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup.

CAF Champions League & Confederation Cup spots

Despite their 1-2 defeat to Sunshine Stars, Remo Stars are in pole position to secure the second CAF Champions League. The Sky Blue Stars will play hosts to Katsina United and need an outright win to lay claim to that ticket.

On their tails for the same spot are Enyimba and 3SC who are also in the hunt to finish second.

Jonathan Alukwu’s late goal for Sporting Lagos ended the chance of the People’s Elephant avoiding defeat or stretching the title race into the final Matchday. Gbenga Ogunbote’s 3SC also fell to John Bassey’s late goal in Yenagoa as Bayelsa United gave themselves a fighting chance of beating the drop.

Despite their chances of claiming that second spot on the league table, Enyimba, 3SC and Remo Stars are also in the running for the CAF Confederation Cup should they fail to win their final matches, irrespective of results elsewhere.

One of Plateau United and Lobi Stars also have the chance of crashing the party and claiming the third position should the apple cart be upset on the final day of the campaign. Plateau United, however, would rue failing to defeat Kano Pillars on Saturday when they had the chance to do so. Playing with 10 men after Mustapha Salisu was sent off, Rabiu Ali scored for Pillars and Plateau United laboured to a 1-1 draw at home after Sam Pam Jr levelled the score.

Lobi Stars had to shake off a tough-as-nail Kwara United side to win 4-3, thanks to Kumaga Suur’s late goal on 85 minutes. Lobi’s form of late makes them outsiders for a top-three finish as they play on the road at Kano Pillars on the final Matchday.

Survival race

The final Matchday will be interesting at the lower end of the table with eight clubs yet to confirm their status for next season in the NPFL. Already Gombe United and Heartland have been relegated to the second tier, the Nigeria National League (NNL), but Sunshine Stars, Kano Pillars, Kwara United and Niger Tornadoes are looking over their shoulders with the like of Bayelsa United, Akwa United, Sporting Lagos and Doma United breathing down their necks.

Sporting Lagos and Doma United will begin the final Matchday in the relegation zone. Doma United suffered a 0-2 defeat at Katsina United, leaving their goal difference looking unhealthy at -15, the worst among the sides battling for survival. Doma will play hosts to Sunshine Stars in a rescheduled fixture on Wednesday, and then welcome Abia Warriors on the last day of the season, while Sporting Lagos face 3SC in a tough Southwest derby at the Lekan Salami Stadium in Ibadan on the final day of the season.

Akwa United and Bayelsa United perch above the drop zone after contrasting results on Matchday 37. The Promise Keepers fell to Sunday Megwo’s goals that sealed a 2-0 win for Abia Warriors, while Bayelsa United left it late to see off 3SC 2-1 with Bassey scoring twice in the final 15 minutes. Akwa United have to face Rivers United at their Nest of Champions home ground in Uyo on the final day, and Bayelsa United will make the trip to Benin City to play against Bendel Insurance who have just the points to play for.

Unless the final day throws up outrageous outcomes, the quartet of Sunshine Stars, Kano Pillars, Kwara United and Niger Tornadoes need a point each from their final day matches to keep their places in the topflight for another season. Kano Pillars and Kwara United play at home against Lobi Stars and Heartland respectively while Tornadoes and Sunshine Stars go head-to-head.

As things stand, the outcomes of the penultimate Matchweek have definitely shaped a thrilling finale to the NPFL season.

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