One city, one stadium, six teams. Experience and naivete. Streetwise nous and nascent zest. All traits will be shown at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena on June 3, when the battle for the 2023 Nigeria Premier Football League title kicks off.
Mark your calendars from June 3rd to 11th as the vibrant city of Lagos becomes the epicenter of football fever. This thrilling championship will welcome esteemed teams such as Rivers United, the reigning champions, Enyimba FC, Remo Stars, Lobi Stars, Sunshine Stars, and Bendel Insurance.
With a grand prize of 100 million naira at stake, the highly anticipated NPFL 23 Championship in Lagos promises an exhilarating display of talent. While every team vies for the coveted title, the additional allure of securing CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup slots adds further excitement to the mix, fans should expect an explosive showcase of skill and passion, where fireworks of competitive spirit will illuminate the tournament.
The tournament will be played in a league format, a total of 15 games — with each of the six teams facing the other.
The draw for the championship was held on friday afternoon, and here’s the full schedule;
Day 1, June 3rd
Enyimba vs Remo Stars – 2pm
Sunshine v Rivers United – 4pm
Bendel Insurance v Lobi Stars – 6pm
Day 2, June 5th
Lobi stars vs Enyimba – 2pm
Rivers United vs Remo Stars – 4pm
Bendel Insurance vs Sunshine Stars – 6pm
Day 3, June 7th
Bendel Insurance vs Enyimba – 2pm
Remo Stars vs Sunshine Stars – 4pm
Lobi stars vs Rivers United – 6pm
Day 4, June 9th
Rivers United vs Bendel Insurance – 2pm
Lobi stars vs Remo Stars – 4pm
Sunshine Stars vs Enyimba – 6pm
Day 5, June 11th
Sunshine Stars vs Lobi stars – 2pm
Remo vs Bendel Insurance – 4pm
Enyimba vs Rivers United – 6pm
Kick off is imminent, and all parties involved are ready, but how did all teams get here?
HOW THE PARTICIPATING TEAMS QUALIFIED
The regular season which was held in an abridged format with two groups (10 teams per group) had the top three(3) teams from both groups qualify for this.
From Group A, Bendel Insurance, Remo Stars & Enyimba Fc qualified for this stage.
Bendel Insurance, the Benin Arsenal as they are fondly called, maintained an 18-game unbeaten run, with 8 wins and 10 draws to make this stage. They led the Group A table with 34 points, scoring 22 goals and conceding 11.
Down south in Ikenne, Remo stars who qualified for the CAF competition for the first time ever last season finishing third, can take it a step further by aiming for the title this time around.
The sky blue stars with 33 points made it to this stage, with 9 wins, 6 draws and 3 Losses. They scored 21 goals and conceded 14 during the season.
Enyimba, had to seal this on the final match day of the regular season, infact their presence at this championship was pioneered by a better Goal’s difference, precisely 3 more. They finished with 32 points, same as Akwa United. Enyimba scored 25 goals and conceded 12, with 9 wins, 5 draws and 4 losses.
From Group B, Rivers United, Lobi Stars, & Sunshine Stars made it to this stage.
Rivers United, the defending champions with 34 points led this group and made it to the Championship, with 9 wins, 7 draws and 2 losses. They scored 24 goals and conceded 15 times.
For a team who survived relegation on the final day last season, Lobi stars can strongly fantacise about the title with their impressive run during the regular season. Lobi stars made it here with 30 points, 9 wins, 3 draws and 6 losses. They scored 20 goals and conceded 17 times.
Sunshine stars, the final team that made it to this stage in this group had the Enyimba scenario also, with a better Goal’s difference against that of Abia Warriors. The Owena Whales who sealed qualification on the final day also, had a +6 GD, while Abia Warriors had a -2, with both teams finishing with 27 points.
Sunshine stars scored 20 goals and conceded 14 times to get here.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE PARTICIPATING TEAMS
Every team that has reached this stage has undoubtedly earned their place through hard work and determination. None of them can be underestimated, for there are no pushovers among them. While certain teams may be considered outright favorites and others labeled as underdogs, in this battle, everything will be on the line for each team in their pursuit of success.
No team can afford to be overconfident, as the competition demands unwavering focus and maximum effort from everyone. Similarly, no team should be underrated, as every participant possesses the potential to make a significant impact. It is a level playing field where each team will leave no stone unturned in their quest for victory. In this championship, respect for all teams is essential, as the outcomes will be determined by the relentless spirit and dedication displayed by each and every one of them.
When Monday Odigie led this team to promotion last season, he likely couldn’t have envisioned the remarkable position they find themselves in today. It’s a true fairytale for them. They have the opportunity to dream big, not only in pursuit of the league title but also in the final of the FA Cup. The team’s progress has surpassed all expectations, and they now have a genuine chance to achieve a remarkable double. The players and fans alike can dare to dream as they set their sights on making history in both competitions.
The Benin Arsenal would offer bright spark going forward, and it would not be crazy to call them the best team in the land right now, they are unbeaten in all competitions this season and with 11 conceded during the regular season, their defense showcases unwavering determination and discipline, which could prove to be the key in preventing opposing teams from finding the net. Their resolute and steadfast defensive line possesses the capability to effectively shut out their opponents, denying them any opportunities to score. With such a tenacious defense, they have a strong advantage in frustrating their rivals and maintaining a formidable stronghold at the back.
Players to Watch — Imade Osarenkhoe made a dazzling impact in the first half of the league, capturing attention with his goal-scoring prowess. If he rediscovers his scoring form in Lagos, Bendel Insurance will be an unstoppable force. Additionally, Sarki Ismail emerged as a dependable goal-scorer, stepping up when Imade’s goals dried up, netting an impressive six goals. Divine Nwachukwu, demonstrated his playmaking abilities with four assists during the regular season. Once again, Bendel Insurance will rely on him to work his magic during the playoffs. Finally, keep an eye on Deputy Echetta, a player who possesses the potential to make a significant impact on the field.
As the defending champions, the weight of expectation falls upon their shoulders. Having missed out on all other cup competitions this season, the team’s ability to justify the significant investment made by the state government lies in their quest to reclaim the league title. While they may not have assembled a squad capable of surpassing the quarter-final stage of the CAF CC, their present lineup is undoubtedly strong enough to defend their NPFL crown. Finishing on top of Group B with an impressive 34 points in the regular season, they have proven their dominance.
Under the guidance of Stanley Eguma, the longest-serving coach in the NPFL, Rivers United boasts a coach with ample NPFL experience. With his expertise and knowledge, the team is well-equipped to fiercely compete for the title.
Players to Watch — Nyima Nwagua has emerged as the leading goal scorer for the club, causing havoc among defenders both in the league and in CAF inter-club competitions. His formidable presence on the field may prove to be a daunting challenge for opposing teams to handle during the playoffs. Additionally, Ebube Duru showcases his prowess as a set-piece specialist, capable of dismantling any team. With three successful free-kick goals in the regular season, he possesses the ability to add more to his tally in Lagos, further cementing his status as a key player for the renowned “Pride of Rivers” team.
In addition, Morice Chukwu and Albert Korvah are instrumental figures within the team, playing crucial roles in both goal-scoring and creating opportunities for the Stanley Eguma-led side. Their contributions have been significant, with a strong involvement in finding the back of the net and generating scoring opportunities. Their presence on the field will be vital to the team’s success as they aim to defend their title.
History has a tendency to repeat itself, as evidenced by Enyimba’s triumph in 2019. They clinched the title by emerging victorious in the Super 6 playoff, a feat achieved after finishing third in the Group A table that year. Given this historical precedence, Enyimba is favorably positioned to contend for the championship once again. As the most successful side in the Nigerian League, their focus remains firmly set on securing another title, potentially their ninth.
Enyimba’s impressive record of four away wins highlights their ability to conquer any opponent on their journey to success. Their intimidating pedigree and illustrious history make it impossible to overlook them in the pursuit of the title. Enyimba FC will undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with, as they strive to leave an indelible mark on the competition and claim another glorious victory.
Players to Watch — Emeka Obioma, the league’s top scorer with 14 goals, is undeniably a key figure in the current Enyimba team. His prolific goal-scoring ability has garnered him considerable recognition. Although he missed their final game against 3SC in Ibadan due to an injury, he is anticipated to make a full recovery and be fit for the playoffs. With his return, Enyimba will once again have their star striker leading the line, ready to make a significant impact and contribute to their title ambitions.
Remo Stars experienced a remarkable ascent last season, reaching the pinnacle of success. This season, they have managed to sustain their position at the top, a feat worthy of commendation. The team’s exceptional structure, combined with the guidance of their skilled tactician, Daniel Ogunmodede, instills a sense of growing confidence within the camp. Their continued success demonstrates their commitment, resilience, and effective teamwork. With such a strong foundation in place, Remo Stars possess the potential to maintain their impressive form and make a lasting impact in the competition.
Players to watch — Goalkeeper Kayode Bankole kept 9 clean sheets during the regular season, with experienced Ifeanyi Anaemena also in defence, Remo Stars can bank on them to keep things safe for them at the back. Going forward, Andy Okpe and Samuel Onakwe would have to deliver the goods for the Sky Blue Stars. Adebayo Abayami who has only missed one game for the team in the last two seasons would have his experience needed to marshal things for them in midfield.
After the conclusion of the previous season, Edith Agoye made a significant move to join the team from Shooting Stars. However, there were not many optimistic expectations surrounding his appointment. If you were to inquire about the opinions of Sunshine Stars fans regarding his role as the new coach, a significant portion would have expressed a lack of positivity, merely hoping for the team to maintain their position in the NPFL and avoid relegation. However, contrary to those apprehensions, the team has defied the odds, having even reached the Quarter Final of the Federation Cup
The Owena Whales find themselves in a situation where they do not face any pressure, having greatly exceeded everyone’s expectations. Throughout their history, the team has never won the NPFL Title. However, this could be the perfect opportunity for Edith Agoye to craft a remarkable fairytale narrative and etch his name deep within the hearts of the Ondo People.
Players to Watch — The Akure-based side will heavily rely on the contributions of their top scorer, Yusuf Ibrahim, as well as the exceptional goalkeeping skills of Mustapha Ibrahim and the goal-scoring prowess of defender Udom Ekerrete. These players will need to step up for the team.
If someone had predicted a remarkably successful season for Lobi Stars, placing them in their current position, they might have been deemed insane. After narrowly escaping relegation on the final day of the previous season, the team’s unexpected rise under the leadership of Baba Ganaru has been a sight to behold. They have thrilled viewers and followers with awe-inspiring goals throughout the season. Now, having found stability, the team has their sights set on claiming the ultimate prize.
Players to Watch — The “shoe get size” team will heavily rely on the mettle of Kumanga Suur, Abba Umar, and Joseph Atule to ensure a smooth sailing ahead. These individuals will need to bring in their A-game, which would play a crucial role in the team’s success.
As the stage is set and the stakes are high, six teams find themselves locked in a fierce battle to emerge victorious. With only one team destined to claim the title, the championship promises to be intense and challenging for all involved. Every team will undoubtedly face tough challenges in their quest for glory.