Niger Tornadoes captain and goalkeeper, Mustapha Aliko is confident his team will beat Kano Pillars in this year’s Aiteo/Federation Cup final. In this interview with Trust Sports, the former Golden Eaglets keeper said Tornadoes may be considered to be underdogs in the contest but they will shock their more illustrious opponents on Wednesday to lift their second Aiteo Cup.
How are you preparing for the Aiteo Cup final clash with Kano Pillars?
We are preparing very well because we know the task ahead of us. We know that Kano Pillars is one of the best teams in the league but we are seen as underdogs because we didn’t do very well in the league. We know it is not going to be an easy task but we also have competent technical crew and quality players to do the job against Kano Pillars on Wednesday. We respect Kano Pillars but I am sure they also know that it is not going to be a walk in the park for them.
Are you not going to be affected by the underdog status in the finals?
Like I said earlier, many people believe that Kano Pillars will have it easy against us simply because we got relegated to the lower division. However, to be honest with you, we have won the Cup before and technically, I don’t think we are inferior to Kano Pillars. It is true that they parade some of the best players around but that is not to say we won’t be able to play our game. If they believe we are underdogs in this match, they will receive a rude shock. In addition, Aiteo Cup is full of surprises. That is why it is also called challenge Cup. As a matter of fact, we were responsible for the exit of some of the big teams in this year’s competition. Our most recent victims were Rivers United. We defeated them 2-1 to reach the finals.
Win or lose in the final, Tornadoes have qualified for the continent by virtue of Kano Pillars CAF Champions League ticket. Having qualified for the continent, are Tornadoes still hungry?
We are very much hungry. Our target is to win this trophy. We are aware of the fact that if we win this trophy, our sports loving governor will do something reasonable for us. Even when we lost in 2017, he still rewarded the team so you can imagine what he will do, if we bring home the trophy. The only thing I can say is that having secured a continental ticket, we are not going to play the final under any form of pressure.
Considering that some players have left the camp of Tornadoes after the league mishap, will Tornadoes be able to field a strong team against Pillars?
We are okay with what we have in our camp at the moment. Although we have lost one or two key players, we still have tested replacements so there is no cause for alarm. Pillars will come up against a highly motivated team. The spirit is still high because we have a new chairman who is doing everything to motivate us. He made a pledge to us before our semi-final match and he has since redeemed it. The government and people of Niger State are solidly behind us. We won’t let them down.
Niger State is not too far from Kaduna which is the match venue. In what way do you think the closeness to Kaduna will help Tornadoes?
I can assure you that Kaduna is home away from home for Tornadoes. I spoke to the chairman of our supporters club and he disclosed to me plans to convey thousands of loyal fans to Kaduna to cheer us to victory. The distance is not much so most of our fans will even drive to Kaduna to support us. Some are even planning to go by train. Even this morning, many of them thronged our training ground to motivate us. So to answer your question, I am expecting thousands of our fans to storm Kaduna on Wednesday to give us the support we need to win.
Would you say Tornadoes have fully recovered from the defeat in the 2017 finals?
(Laughs) This question should be answered by Kano Pillars who I believe are still struggling to come to terms with what happened to them just last year. We have since moved on from the loss in 2017. So if any team will be going into the finals with apprehension, it should be Kano Pillars. For Tornadoes, this final offers us the chance to pay our fans for the defeat against Akwa United. We have much younger players who will fearlessly confront the older players from Kano Pillars. Pillars have big boys but our boys are younger, hungry and eager to make a name.
How soon do you think Niger Tornadoes will return to the NPFL?
By the grace of God, it won’t take long before Tornadoes return to the topflight. We have mapped out plans for a quick return to the NPFL. Interestingly, our state government is willing to give us all the necessary support. The new management also is doing its best to keep and motivate those players who are willing to stay. I think after one season we would be back.
Do you believe the return of Coach Abubakar Bala will impact positively on Tornadoes’ aspiration to return to the NPFL?
Coach Abubakar Bala is one of the best coaches in Nigerian football. He is technically and tactically sound. He knows how to psyche up his players. In addition, he has got the experience required to steer Tornadoes back to the NPFL. As an indigene of Niger State, he is passionate about the team and I believe he will get the necessary support to succeed.
You have spent so many seasons in Niger Tornadoes. Won’t you look elsewhere for greener pastures?
To be honest with you, I have at least five offers but right now, I am focused on the finals on Wednesday. I cannot tell you categorically, if I am going to stay in Tornadoes or move but when the time comes, I will make the crucial decision. I am a home boy and I have so much love for Tornadoes but I am also a professional. I will discuss with my family and guardians and take the right decision.