Chris Oji, Enugu
Rangers claimed the league title yesterday after 32 years wait.
It was their seventh title as they equaled the seven-time record achieved in the 2014/2015 by Enyimba of Aba.
Rangers last night beat El Kanemi Warrior of Maiduguri 4-0 at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu. The win took them to 63 points from 38 matches, three ahead of challengers Rivers United FC of Port Harcourt.
River United beat Akwa United of Uyo at home 2-1 to end up in second place.
Struggling Lagos-based MFM FC escaped relegation by defeating visiting Ifeanyi Uba of Nnewi 1-0 at the Agege Stadium.
The Rangers victory was marred by a serious leg injury to Ifeanyi Egwim.
Egwim, who replaced Ocheme Edoh in the 83rd minute, was bearing down on goal in the 88th minute, when he was brought down.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that goalkeeper Yekeen Kazeem, who was exposed, having been defenceless, advanced on him and fell the towering forward.
As referee Ferdinand Udoh pointed at the penalty kick spot and handed the goalkeeper a red card, Egwim’s two teammates who ran towards him to bring him up started crying.
Other players who ran to the spot just inside the El-Kanemi Warriors box, placed their hands on their heads.
Even Referee Udoh could not bear to look further, and his gestures thereafter showed the extent of the injury.
Medical personnel quickly called for the ambulance which took Egwim, who looked to have been injured just below the knee, away for further treatment.
The mood was further expressed minutes later after Chisom Egbuchulam scored the resultant penalty kick in the 90th minute for the match’s fourth goal and to complete his hat-trick.
He refused to jubilate the goal, even after some teammates rushed to him. He lifted his shirt to his face and bent over double to weep.
It was a sad end to a day which had looked promising for Rangers from the game’s opening minute when they started to dominate proceedings. .
Bobby Clement’s shot was handled by Abraham Audu for a second minute penalty kick which Egbuchulam expertly scored for the game’s first goal.
The Maiduguri-based Warriors seemed ready to spoil the much-awaited party at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, in their fightback.
Obinna Nwobodo could have extended the lead in the 29th minute with his shot from about 28 metres, but goalkeeper Kazeem’s acrobatic response prevented that.
The fluidity of the hosts’ offensive play was a beauty, and it yielded further result in the 40th minute when Osas Okoro finished off a good move from the right flank.
Egbuchulam scored his second and the game’s third in the 64th minute, before the 90th minute penalty kick which gave him his hat-trick and took his league season tally to 16.
The victory threw Enugu city into a frenzy. People trooped to the streets around the stadium in jubilation. Drinking spots made brisk business
Among the record crowd that watched the match was Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu.
Rangers had already wrapped up victory 2 weeks ago having ganeered enough points that gave a 5 points margin between them and the runner up.
The elated governor said: “We thank the God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob and the awesome God of David who made it possible that after 32 years in the wilderness, our prayers and dreams came true and Rangers International Football Club of Enugu are Champions again.
“We pray that they remain champions for a long time in Jesus Name.
“We thank the Nigerian Football Federation, the League Management Company for their leadership and we thank the management and the players of Rangers for reviving the famous Rangers spirit and for making the club great again.
“We thank all our supporters across the country more especially, the good people of Enugu State, for their fervent and unceasing prayers for this day of glory.
“As your servant and your governor, I hereby on your behalf dedicate this trophy to the Almighty God –for indeed, Enugu is truly in the hands of God.”
Rangers’ chief coach Imama Amapakabo said: “It’s unfortunate that the whole season campaign had to end on somehow sad note with the last minute injury on substitute, Ifeanyi Egwim. However, we are thankful to God that Enugu Rangers are champions of the 2015/16 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).
“This glorious performance happened after anxious waiting for a whole 32 years. The players have been exceptionally wonderful from start to finish and they truly imbide the catchword campaign ‘believe’.
“I’m excited beyond word and need to sleep and wake up as well as pinch myself severally to be sure that what is going on at the moment is not mere dream but reality.
“I know we were champions after the hard fought win at Ikorodu United but I wanted us to be pronounced officially as champions after the final day clash against El Kanemi Warriors.
“I’m happy winning the top-flight title in my first stint as coach of Enugu Rangers. I want to sleep over what is going on right now perhaps when I wake up, the celebration will start in full swing,” said the former Enyimba coach
With this feat, Rangers’ players and coaches are poised to share N40 million earmarked for the NPFL champions by the league management.
Giwa FC, Ikorodu United and Warri Wolves have been relegated from the top division.
However, the status of Heartland FC of Owerri, which abandoned its last league game against Plateau United in Jos, will be determined by the league management. The Nation