Heartland FC have arrived Asaba Delta state battle ready for their Round of 16 encounter against Dakada FC of Uyo on Saturday at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in the ongoing AITEO Cup.
The team against all odds surprised all in their round of 32 encounter against Rangers where they stopped the Enugu Antelopes’ dream of of going further in the championship.
It was a revenge mission for the relegated side who after 1-1 regulation time embraced victory with a 7-8 penalty shootout at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin.
Rangers had beaten Heartland twice in the league last season, scoring six goals in the process, meaning they had momentum going into this Aiteo Cup round of 32 game .
The flying antelopes dominated the early exchanges through Chidiebere Nwobodo , Sam Pam, Shedrack Asiegbu and the ageless Ejike Uzoenyi pegging Heartland back in the first 15 minutes with some crisp passing and quick transition.
Rangers’ pressure paid off in the 29th minute when Chidiebere Nwobodo ghosted past Ebuka Okoro and Godwin Paul in goal for Heartland before setting up Ossy Martins for a simple tap in.
Heartland fought back to restore parity almost immediately but Murphy Ndukwu and Adejoh Ojonugwa fluffed thier lines.
Two minutes later Emeka Okoro found himself in acres of space but dragged his shot wide from just 5 yards .
Emeka Okoro was replaced by Nonso Nzediegwu in the 43rd minute as the Owerri side sought a leveller but Rangers maintained their lead until the interval.
Heartland increased the intensity in the second period as Nonso Nzediegwu’s introduction changed the trajectory of the game with Ndukwu Murphy and Ojonugwa’s combination beginning to make inroads into the Rangers’defense.
Nonso Nzediegwu came close in the 53rd minute with a superb curling effort but the critical break through came in the 65 th minute; a combination of passes involving Nnaemeka Anyanwu, Sunday Chinedu, Chibuike Nwaiwu, Adejoh Ojonugwa and Murphy Ndukwu found Nonso Nzediegwu who applied the finish to restore parity for the Naze Millionaires.
Rangers responded immediately by bringing on a trio of substitutes including the physically imposing Elijah Ani but Heartland finished the tie the stronger side.
The Naze Millionaires triumphed 8-7 on penalties with Christian Madu the missing in sudden death for Rangers .
Reacting after the match Heartland Technical Adviser Erasmus Onuh thanked God and his players for the victory.
” Many wrote us off before the game but God helped us. I told my players not to be distracted by Rangers possessing the ball and after the first goal,the boys came out of their shell to play especially in the second half . Am proud of my team and the unity of purpose ”