It was sweet victory for the Nigerian male and female teams as they shrugged off fierce competition to emerge victorious in the opening matches of the Airtel Rising Stars (ARS) Africa Championship, a seven-day continental grassroot soccer fiesta, which kicked off on Monday at the instance of leading telecommunications services provider, Airtel.
After a highly engaging first half with no goals from either side, Nigeria’s female team, which was represented by Team Port Harcourt, winners of the ARS National finals, returned in the second half with a renewed determination to impress the home crowd.
Their efforts paid off when striker, Edore Agbude, in the 52nd minute, mesmerized her marker and left the Kenyan goalkeeper rooted as she slotted the ball into the net with her right foot.
The Kenyans fought hard to overturn the score line but could not penetrate the impregnable defence of the Nigerian side as the match ended in favour of the home side.
Nigeria continued their dominance with the Male team defeating Democratic Republic of Congo in the second match of the day. Yakubu Gambo got the first goal for the Nigerian team and Folajinmi Gbenga consolidated the score line and sealed victory for the Nigerian side with a powerful strike in the second half.
With these results, the Nigerian Teams sit on top of their respective tables, with a bright possibility of qualifying for the knock out stages.
Hostilities continue on September 17th, with exciting fixtures involving Malawi vs. Rwanda, Niger vs. Burkina Faso and Gabon vs. Chad. Other matches in the male group will feature Kenya vs. Madagascar, Uganda vs Congo Brazzaville and Zambia vs. Sierra Leone.
Matches slated for the female category include Democratic Republic of Congo vs. Gabon, Ghana vs Chad and Burkina Faso vs. Zambia. Others are Uganda vs. Malawi and Sierra Leone vs Tanzania.
Meanwhile, top government officials in Nigeria have rated the tournament highly, saying the Airtel Rising Stars Africa Championship is created to develop talented African youth.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Airtel Rising Stars Africa Championship in Lagos on Monday, the Minister of Sports, Alhaji Bolaji Abdulahi congratulated Airtel for not only uniting Africa by hosting 16 countries in Africa, but also helping to shape the future of the continent for greater prosperity through the Airtel Rising Stars Football programme.
The Minister, who was represented by Mr. Yemi Idowu, Chairman of Nigeria Academicals Sports Committee (NASCOM), said the professional experience and networking opportunities that will be gained by the budding African stars through the championship will be evergreen in their memories as it will form the fulcrum on which their dreams shall be fulfilled.
Also speaking at the occasion, the Minister of Women Affairs, Hajia Zainab Maina, thanked the management of Airtel for designing the programme in such a way that talented girls are also offered equal opportunities to excel, saying it is the first of such gender balance programme in the continent.
She reiterated that the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs is committed to its vision of facilitating speedy and healthy development of Nigerian Women in the main stream of the National Development process and ensuring the survival, protection, development and participation of all children in preparation for meaningful adult life.
Maina, who was represented by the Director of Women Rehabilitation, Mrs. Mercy Daodu, said the federal government is also committed to building a Nigerian society devoid of gender discrimination, ensuring equal access to wealth creation opportunities and developing a culture that places premium on the protection of the Child as well as focusing attention of both public and private sector on issues that promote full participation of Women and Children in the National development process.