The Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) returns this Saturday after 119 days of off-season.
Last season’s champions Plateau United travel to Lafia to face Nasarawa United in a Middle Belt Derby while the big hitters Enyimba, Enugu Rangers and Kano Pillars are up for away games that will be banana peels for them on the opening day of the campaign.
The maiden edition of the Predictor Challenge in the Nigerian top-flight starts with George Akpayen also known as The Predictor going up against Sam Nnaji, an NPFL follower and writer.
Nnaji was born in Aba, and he is a faithful Enyimba fan and owns popular independent blog ThatEnyimbaFan.com. You can follow him on Twitter via @bigsammy08.
NPFL MATCHDAY 1
Katsina United v Kano Pillars
I was in Kano for the NPFL Invitational Tournament and saw the Kano Pillars team. They did look decent but without their playmaker Rabiu Ali, they often looked lost while on the offensive. I think one man who could take up that role in Ali’s absence is Ibrahim Alassan – he has that potential if only coach Ibrahim Musa will hand him that playmaker role.
Katsina United now managed by Abdullahi Biffo has brought in some decent legs in Eric Dufegha, Samuel Tswanya, Precious Omodu and the workaholic forward Ebenezer Odeyemi. I am expecting this northwest derby to be tight from start to finish as I know Biffo will set up his men to attack and squeeze the life out of Pillars. But I will settle for a share of the spoils.
The Predictor’s prediction: 1-1
Sam Nnaji’s prediction: No way Pillars would get anything here. 2-1
Kwara United v Niger Tornadoes
This fixture is always packed with goals – producing two per game. I found it surprising that few days before the start of the season, the new Tornadoes management parted ways with head coach Abubakar Bala and brought in Erasmus Onuh. So philosophy and style will surely change.
Unfortunately for Kwara United, the road accident they suffered during the week might take the sting out of them. Though Alfred Stephen was the only player who needed immediate treatment as at the time of the road crash, I still reckon Kwara United will dig deep to win by a slim margin.
The Predictor’s prediction: 1-0
Sam Nnaji’s prediction: Will this fixture hold? If yes then I think defenses will go AWOL. 2-2
FC Ifeanyiubah v Yobe Desert Stars
It is a return to the big time for Yobe Stars after 15 years in the lower league. So they will need to make their return count when they make the trip to the southeast of the country to face former Cup champions FC Ifeanyiubah. Yobe Stars head coach Mohammed Baba Ganaru knows the Anambra Warriors well and their coach Ladan Bosso, and that makes it an interesting matchup.
Bosso’s teams from Wikki Tourists to El-Kanemi Warriors where he last worked before joining FC Ifeanyiubah are very hard to beat at home. Despite some key departures in the off-season at FC Ifeanyiubah, I do think they still have a decent playing personnel to see off Yobe Stars.
The Predictor’s prediction: 3-0
Sam Nnaji’s prediction: Ladan Bosso and his boys should be off to a flyer this season. 2-0
Wikki Tourists v Go Round FC
If new boys Go Round FC show no respect for Wikki, this game could be easier than falling off a log for them. Wikki do not look prepared enough for this season and will also play their home games at the New Jos Stadium, I understand. So that makes this contest look an open one though I do not expect Wikki to lay down and die in spite of their troubling situation.
This is going to be a tough game, and at the same time could be an end-to-end contest. I feel Go Round will pull off a famous win in their first-ever top-flight game.
The Predictor’s prediction: 1-2
Sam Nnaji’s prediction: Go Round will look to punch above their weights but surely not leaving Jos (where Wikki will play their home games for now) with anything. 1-0
Akwa United v Enugu Rangers
I am sure Abdu Maikaba will be a little leery of Rangers who I think have prepared well in the off-season and have in Gbenga Ogunbote one of the decent coaches in the country. In the past three years, securing a win against Rangers has been like knocking their heads against the wall. Five league meetings in the past three years and Rangers have not suffered a defeat to the Promise Keepers – winning three of those meetings including a 3-2 win in 2016 in this same fixture.
Maikaba’s men, I think, will be a different kettle of fish for the Flying Antelopes this time. It will not be a win in a walk for the Promise Keepers but they will open their season with a victory.
The Predictor’s prediction: 2-1
Sam Nnaji’s prediction: At home in Uyo? Rangers can only wish Akwa strikers aren’t on song. It could get nasty. 3-1
Lobi Stars v Enyimba
For the 31st time since 2003, Lobi and Enyimba will go head-to-head in the NPFL. Enyimba have won 14 of the past 30 meetings including twice at Lobi in February 2003 and in February 2010. Unfortunately it is not February yet since the People’s Elephant love winning in those months at Lobi.
Lobi will start the season without the league’s top scorer Anthony Okpotu who is away on international duty in Morocco for the CHAN with the Super Eagles. Enyimba also have five players in the Nigerian squad but will soldier as they have squad full of quality. As much as Lobi have done well in this fixture in the past two seasons, I don’t see Enyimba losing at the Aper Aku Stadium.
The Predictor’s prediction: 0-0
Sam Nnaji’s prediction: Backing Enyimba to get something on a ground we’ve left empty handed two years in a row now. 1-1
Heartland v Sunshine Stars
One result that will readily to the minds of faithful of both clubs is the shock 3-0 win of Sunshine Stars in this same fixture in May 2015. The Naze Millionaires have made a quick return to the top division after a season in the second tier.
Sunshine Stars might have a whole lot of off-the-pitch issues but they remain a very dangerous side especially with willing runners in Sikiru Alimi who is a very underrated forward in the division. I expect Heartland to start with a win.
The Predictor’s prediction: 1-0
Sam Nnaji’s prediction: Heartland won’t forget Sunshine – no repeat of the 3-0 home defeat to them three seasons ago. 2-0
Nasarawa United v Plateau United
It was a rollercoaster for Plateau United last season as they cruised to the title but at the pre-season tournament in Kano, the Jos club did not put up champions stuff. Last term they grind out a 0-0 draw in Lafia to the disappointment of Nasarawa United fans but I feel things will be different this time.
The Solid Miners have been slow starters in the past two seasons, and that has robbed them of finishing as high as possible on the ranking. This time, I am sure their head coach Kabiru Dogo will look to put an end to that hoodoo as I tip them to see off the champions.
The Predictor’s prediction: 2-0
Sam Nnaji’s prediction: The defending champions have a lot on their plate including a funny pre-season – getting anything in Lafia just won’t happen! 1-0
Rivers United v El-Kanemi Warriors
Imama Amapakabo will be unavailable for El-Kanemi’s first game of the season as he is away for CHAN duty with the Super Eagles. But his team will face a side they have never avoided defeat against in this same fixture since 2004 – nine visits, nine defeats.
Rivers United have recruited quite decently this time after cutting loose a large number of playing personnel from last season. One of such is Ochowechi Salefu, who I regard as a real ball-playing midfielder. His impact will be felt if starts this game. I expect El-Kanemi to keep things tight but the Pride of Rivers will put the full points on the board.
The Predictor’s prediction: 3-1
Sam Nnaji’s prediction: El-Kanemi head coach Imama Amapakabo was linked with Rivers United but will only happen after Eguma leaves. When will Eguma leave? He’s never leaving. 1-1
Abia Warriors v MFM FC
Honestly I am not sure if MFM look prepared enough for this season judging by their inactivity in the transfer window. They have had key departures in attacking areas with Stephen Odey and Austine Ogunye moving to new challenges plus Oladele Oshobe’s exit from the club in the middle of last season. MFM manager Fidelis Ilechukwu again has to manage a side with a shoestring budget in a year they will play in the league, Aiteo Cup and CAF Champions League.
Abia Warriors are now under a new coach Rafael Everton Lira, the Brazilian who first worked at rivals FC Ifeanyiubah and led them to Cup success in 2016. He is loved by a lot of players in the country and I fear for MFM as they will be up against a team in good morale, compared to the quiet bickering among key players who I know are not pleased with their (MFM’s) plans for this season. I do not see the Lagos club leaving Umuahia with any result.
The Predictor’s prediction: 2-0
Sam Nnaji’s prediction: Abia Warriors always start the season well – I think they will win this one effortlessly. 2-0
© The Predictor