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SociaLiga Playoffs Preview: Mainland Conference

And then they were six. New boys, Bravos Knights and Raineri Ghosts have enjoyed an impressive debut season in The SociaLiga by claiming the first two spots in the Mainland Conference. Last season’s Mainland Conference Champions, Royals FC, overcame a slow start to the season to finish in 3rd place and make the playoffs for the 2nd year running. Ahead of the conference semi-finals and finals, we take a look at the Mainland Conference teams and their chances of making it to the finals.

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Bravos Knights FC (League Position: 1st)

The legendary Nature Boy, Ric Flair once famously said “If you want to be THE man, you’ve gotta beat THE man…Woooooo!” and he was absolutely right. If you want to be the king, you’ve got to take out the existing king. If you want to be the alpha male, you’ve got to take out the existing alpha male. If you want to be the Kings of the Mainland Conference, well, you’ve got to take out Royals.  Bravos Knights’ journey to becoming one of the best teams this season was unexpected seeing as they were relatively unknown prior to the start of the 2017 campaign. We did sense this when we labelled them the Dark Horses for this campaign following their 1-0 victory over Royals on Matchday 2 but perhaps, even we underestimated just how good they were going to be. With just 1 loss this season & a 60% win rate (second only to Saints’ 70% win rate), they’ve proven to be a force. While they remain solid on all fronts, their attack has been a beauty to behold on numerous occasions. Mueyiwa Omatsola’s (@mueyiwaomatsola) goal against All Black on Matchday 3 was wrongfully ruled out as an offside goal & denied us of one of the best counter-attacking goals in SociaLiga. Not to be discouraged, they executed an even better counter-attacking goal on Matchday 5 against Raineri which involved a series of one touch passes between Samuel Nweze, Eze Emmanuel (@­_nuel88), John Ndanusa (@Johnnydwayne) and finished off by Alaba Otukoya (@alabaotukoya). Watching them turn defense into attack in just 5 seconds was simply beautiful. With a league record 9 different goal scorers and a joint record (with Saints) of scoring at least once in 8 of their 10 games, this is a team that will hurt you repeatedly if they smell blood. This Saturday, they have a chance to be The Man, but you can bet Royals won’t be giving up their title easily.

Key Players: Despite 9 different Bravos players getting on the scoresheet, John Ndanusa (@Johnnydwayne) is yet to find the back of the net but boy, has he been wonderful this season. He’s been in the heart & soul of everything beautiful in Bravos’ attack and he’s a constant nightmare to opposition fullbacks with his ability to play on both flanks coupled with his accurate crosses & quick feet. Alaba Otukoya (@alabaotukoya) has also been instrumental to Bravos’ success this season. He leads the club’s scoring charts with 4 goals including 2 winners against Raineri Ghost, one of the 2 teams they could face on Saturday. Francis Kellor Smith has also been excellent for Bravos Knights. The skipper exudes class and has been a leader both on & off the pitch with a series of impressive performances in the middle of the park. Should Bravos Knights be crowned champions on Saturday, there’s no doubt he would be key to that.

Raineri Ghosts FC (League Position: 2nd)

The & #RainIsHere campaign has understandably shifted everyone’s attention to Raineri’s attack which produced 15 goals this season including a 2-1 victory over Royals & a record tying 5-0 win over All Black on Matchday 4. They did really bring the rain that day and ever since, they’ve only failed to score once. What goes unnoticed, however, has been their defense. While their attack deservedly takes a lot plaudit for their 2nd placed finish this season, their defense has silently broken the clean-sheet record for The SociaLiga previously held by Saints FC; 6 clean-sheets in 10 games. A huge stain on this record, though, is that all 7 of the goals conceded by Raineri Ghosts this season have come in the 4 games against Saturday’s opponents, Bravos Knights and Royals. Perhaps even more worryingly is the fact that in those 4 games, they lost 3. That aside, Raineri Ghost have put together a very strong campaign they can be very proud of. They ended the season with 3 straight wins and 3 straight clean sheets and should be buzzing when they face Royals FC on Saturday.

Key Players: Boluwatife Faleye (@TIFE19M) possesses the ability to unlock just about any defense in the league with his majestic through balls courtesy a wicked left foot. Victor Eneji (@Vriszye), who provides the much needed entertainment online with his bragging-tweets, always backs up his claims on the pitch and has been rock solid in the Raineri midfield. In attack, they’ve got Shahin Alawam (@shahinbenzema1) who leads the goal scoring charts with 5 goals. His abilities to both beat a man and provide assists for his teammates have been overshadowed by how good he is in front of goal and, having scored twice against Royals this season, would be a key for them.

Royals FC (League Position: 3rd)

Royals’ journey toward the playoff has been rough, very rough but that has only made them stronger. After losing 3 and drawing 1 in their first 5 games of the season, the reigning Mainland Conference champions found themselves at the bottom of the table and in the midst of an early crisis. The new players brought in during the off-season found it hard to be integrated into the team while their new look attack looked like an experiment gone bad. They had scored just 3 times in those 5 games & kept 1 clean sheet. They committed defensive errors for fun and seemed to play with no identity. With half the season gone, they went back to the drawing board and produced a series of solid performances which reminded everyone of why they were crowned champions of their conference a year ago. Edgar Anyalogu (@_itz_carta) and Bolaji Kuye (@bolajikhalifa), keys to last season’s success, stepped up their games as Royals clinched a playoff spot with a game to go. In a fantastic turnaround, they ended the season with 3 wins and 2 draw in their last 5 games while keeping 4 (straight) clean sheets. On Saturday, they face Raineri Ghost in the Conference semi-finals with a rivals, Bravos Knights waiting patiently in the finals. One player they can count on is…

Key Player:  Sylvester Ighedosa (@world_sly). There have been chants of “MVP!” around SociaLiga and with each passing matchday, the possibility of Royals producing a league MVP for the second year in a row increases. Sly was very impressive for Royals last season in midfield. In fact, he did make the Team of the Season playing in that role. So it was a huge surprise when he asked his manager to move him to the vacated #9 role and right from the first game of the season, he excelled. With the height that makes him a threat in the air and the physique that makes him a bully on the floor means Sly is easily one of the most dangerous strikers in the league & he has 5 league goals to prove that. Oh, and there’s the celebrations which we love. His performance on the final day of the regular season against Bravos Knights was worthy of winning any game and there’s no doubt that he’ll be vital to Royals’ chances on Saturday.

Head-To-Head Table Between Top 3

Position Team P W D L GF FA GD PTS
1 Bravos Knights FC 4 3 1 0 7 3 +4 10
2 Royals FC 4 1 1 2 5 5 0 4
3 Raineri Ghost FC 4 1 0 3 3 7 -4 3

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Originally posted on The 12th Player

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