An 88th-minute strike was all University of Ilorin (Unilorin) Warriors needed on Wednesday to beat visiting Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Nobles of Zaria 1-0 in the Sahel group of the Higher Institutions Football League (HiFL).
The match was played at the main bowl of Unilorin Stadium Complex.
Unilorin Warriors will have Anochirim Solomon to thank who stood firmly in their defence in a game both sides cancel themselves out in all departments of the field.
Hawal Ogunronbi had skipped past the visitors’ defence to beautifully pick his spot and slotted it perfectly inside the net in the 88th minute.
Unilorin Kabiru Akanbi was presented with the early opportunity when a floated pass behind the ABU Nobles’ defence found him but glided the effort over the bar.
In the 10th minute, Akanbi dribbled past an ABU defender but his cross inside the visitors’ defence met none of his teammates and hit the woodwork a minute later.
Unilorin would have taken the lead in the 37th minute again when they capitalised on a defensive mishap but an alerted Ishaq Abah cleared his line quickly to avert the danger.
Three minutes into the restart, Sodiq Haruna would have put the visitors ahead when he was left unmarked to nod from a corner kick but his effort went inches away from goal.
In the 61st minute, a Suleiman Gombe cross found Jamiu Usman but was headed wide in the process.
Abudulrasaq Afonja controlled the ball beautifully well in front of the ABU Nobles goal and fired from a long range in the 72nd minute to the admiration of the spectators at the stadium.
Ogunronbi broke the deadlock in the 88th minute to give the host a 1-0 lead into the return leg in Kaduna.
Speaking after the game, the Coach of ABU Nobles, Issa Abdullahi, said his boys lost concentration in the defence to concede the lone but agreed that such was part of the game of football.
He said he was happy with the stand of the game and was full of optimism of beating Unilorin Warriors in the return leg in Zaria.
His Unilorin Warriors counterpart, Isiaka Mogaji, said his boys played according to instructions and was happy with the outcome of the match.
He said he was confident that his players would replicate the same form in the return leg and even perform better.
Mr Sola Fijabi, the Director, Pace Sports and Entertainment Marketing, the organisers of the competition, said HiFL was an annual football competition designed for higher institutions in Nigeria to showcase campus football talents and stimulate healthy rivalry among students.
He said the league was organised in partnership with the Nigerian Universities Games Association.
Fijabi explained that HiFL is sponsored by Stanbic IBTC with Green White Green (GWG) Sports Centre Limited as Technical Consultants.
According to him, the competition, which is endorsed by the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) and recognised by the National Universities Council, is divided along the Sahel (North) and Coastal (South) conferences for reasons of proximity and effective administration.
He explained that the top 16 universities from NUGA-member institutions would play 30 games over a period of 14 weeks in a return leg elimination style, with the final four billed for the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos.
Fijabi said the winner of the HiFL will represent Nigeria at the 2019 International University Sports Federation Games in Naples, Italy.