Two big games & two derbies define Matchday 12

It is not yet the defining moments in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) but four of this Sunday's Matchday 12 games are the focal points especially the game in Kano between former champions, Kano Pillars and Enyimba which will be live on SuperSport 9 from 4.15pm.

Rangers International who have had a stuttering start to their title defence square against one of the teams pundits have tipped to win the league this season, Rivers United at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt.

There are two other games of significant interest, in fact, two very interesting derbies. FC Ifeanyiubah host Abia Warriors in an Oriental Derby while MFM FC are at home against Remo Stars in the Southwest Derby.

Interestingly, MFM FC are the only of the eight teams in focus occupying a top-four place in the league standings.

Huge contest in Kano
There have been disagreements on which game is bigger - Kano Pillars versus Enyimba or Rivers United versus Rangers? Many league pundits have already tagged the big game.

So what makes the Kano Pillars versus Enyimba game big? The two teams have between them 10 league titles and since the turn of this decade in 2010, Kano Pillars have won the league thrice and back to back too in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Enyimba have weighed in with two titles in 2010 and 2015. The other two seasons were won by Dolphins FC and Rangers International in 2011 and 2016 respectively.

It has not been the kind of start to the season that two of the NPFL's powerhouses had hoped for as they begin this matchday outside of the top-five of the league. Kano Pillars are in eighth place, one above their rivals. But they have 14 points apiece.

On the pitch, ex-Enyimba stars, Chinedu Udoji, Abdulrasak Aliyu, Sikiru Kamal, Idris Aloma and Musa Najare are now in the Kano Pillars squad for this season and will be raring to make appearances against their former employers.

For Enyimba goalkeeper, Theophilus Afelokhai, it would be the centre of attention at the Sani Abacha Stadium, Kano if he starts on Sunday. He spent seven years at the Kano-based club before switching to Enyimba and would be in for some kind of reception from the fans of Pillars.

Last season, Enyimba did a rare league double on Pillars. The Peoples Elephant won 2-1 over two meetings.

The Port Harcourt clash
Two of the teams that finished as top-two last season go head to head. Both teams are also the only Nigerian clubs remaining on the continent. Rivers United face Rangers in a tantalizing contest. Last season, this fixture ended 3-1 in favour of Rivers United with Bernard Ovoke scoring twice and Christian Weli getting the other. An own goal by Gabriel Olalekan was all Rangers could muster.

This time Rivers United look a different team from the previous season with the arrival of Nzube Anaezemba, Femi Thomas, Esosa Igbinoba, Lukman Mohammed, Emeka Ogbugh, Gabriel Wassa, Ifeanyi Nweke and Okereke Maduabuchi before the start of the season.

On the other hand, Chisom Egbuchulam, who was influential in Rangers' title win has left to Sweden but their coach Imama Amapakabo has brought in Fortune Omoniwari.

The derbies
Two of Rangers' Oriental neighbours, FC Ifeanyiubah and Abia Warriors will go toe to toe in one of the two derbies on offer. Federation Cup champions, FC Ifeanyiubah, have never beaten Abia Warriors in the NPFL. The Nnewi club have splashed big to bring in some of the best talents in the country like Prince Aggreh, Ikenna Hillary, Stephen Eze and last season's top scorer Godwin Obaje.

Abia Warriors have had a difficult past five matchdays though they beat Niger Tornadoes 1-0. This Oriental Derby will form another big test for coach Abdullahi Biffo.

At the Agege Stadium, Lagos it will be a first meeting between MFM FC and Remo Stars, a Southwest Derby. The two teams have met in the second tier but MFM are considered favourites based on their impressive start. But the talking point will be two of the three leading scorers, MFM's Stephen Odey and Victor Mbaoma of Remo Stars going head to head.

There will be six other games also taking place simultaneously on Sunday.

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