It was double victory for host Kaduna as its male and female teams picked the sole zonal tickets in both categories for the National Championship of the on-going Airtel Rising Stars National U-17 Tournament.
Both teams fought off fierce competition from six other states to book their places after a series of matches played at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna.
In the male final match decided last Friday, Kaduna made their numerical advantage count with both finalists coming from the state to make it an all Kaduna affair. They had produced three teams in the male category and two in the female category from the knockout stage.
Grouped as teams Kaduna C and P, the two finalists played out a barren draw during regulation time, and consequently had to settle for a penalty shoot out which eventually ended 9-7 in favour of team Kaduna C.
The picture was not completely different in the female category where Kaduna once again produced the finalists. A solitary strike by Kaduna team B was all that was needed to book a place in the National Championship in Lagos.
The Kaduna zonal championship was not a good outing for defending national champion, team Jos, as they lost the opportunity to play at the National Championship next month after failing to replicate the form that saw them lift the coveted trophy in Lagos last year.
In the third place match decided in the male category, Katsina defeated team Kaduna K 2 – 0 with both goals coming off the boots of Aliyu Isa who also took home the Championship highest goal scorer award with five goals. The girls from Kano scored twice to beat team Kaduna D 2-1 in the female category.
Individual awards went to Augustina Boniface and Watashira Titus, both of whom emerged Championship Best Goal Keeper in the Male and Female categories respectively. Linda Ayo won the Most Valuable Player Award in the female category while Chidera Ejueke was adjudged the Most Valuable Player in the male category.
A total of 736 players representing 20 teams from the 1523 registered number participated in the Kaduna Zonal Championship which produced 58 goals in all from 32 matches.
Notable sports personalities at the Zonal Championship include Dr. Shehu Adamu, Board member, Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), Kaduna Zone, Elisha Kachung – Deputy Director, Ministry of Youth and Sports, Kaduna and Dr. Ademola Are – North West Zonal Coordinator, Zone 1, National Sports Commission (NSC).
The zonal championship play-offs continue in Enugu and Port Harcourt between July 31 and August 2.
Enugu zonal matches will be decided at the University Stadium, UNEC, Enugu, just as the Training Pitch of the Liberation Stadium will serve as the venue for the Port Harcourt zonal championship
Tournament partners, Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria (YSFON) and the Nigeria School Sports Federation (NSSF) are to lead an independent team of seasoned sports personalities including grassroots coaches to conduct the screening exercises that will begin from 10 am to 5 pm on designated days across the centres.
The Airtel Rising Stars U-17 Tourney, in its third year running, is a pan African initiative of Airtel Africa, designed to provide support for the development of football talents across African markets.
It is aimed at discovering talented students (male and female) of secondary school age and providing them the opportunity to polish their football skills and develop into renowned stars.
As part of the tournament, top teams from 17 African countries will compete against each other for the title of Airtel Rising Stars African Champion, scheduled for Nigeria in September.