A bitter-sweet sporting year for Nigeria in 2017
- Adeyinka Akintunde
SPORTS lovers in Nigeria will see 2017 as a year of mixed memories as they tasted the joy of victory and the bitter pills of defeat from the performance of the country’s games men and women.
The year began with negatives. Nigeria did not participate at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, hosted in Gabon. The Super Eagles lost to Egypt in Alexandria in 2016, thus finishing second in the three-man group (following the withdrawal of Chad), and missed out of the biggest football competition in Africa for the second time consecutively.
Like their senior counterparts, the junior teams also disappointed. The Flying Eagles lost to Sudan in Lagos, last year and failed to participate in the CAF U-20 Africa Cup of Nations in Zambia. The hosts eventually won the tournament in March, beating Senegal 2-0 in the final, with the semi finalists, Zambia, Senegal, Ghana and South Africa, representing Africa at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in South Korea. The U-17 Africa Cup of Nations also took place in Gabon with the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria absent, following their loss to Niger Republic in 2016. Consequently, Nigeria missed out of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India.
There was, however, reasons for Nigerian sports lovers to smile in the outgoing year. According to the rankings released by the International Table Tennis Federation, ITTF, on December 7, Haruna Quadri, Nigeria table tennis star, finished the year as the best player in Africa, ranking 21st in the world, displacing former Africa’s best, Omar Assar of Egypt in the process. His previous best in the rankings was 25th, but he climbed up following his victories over top players at the Swedish Open. He had beaten Omar Assar 4-3 at the final of the 2017 ITTF Africa Cup in July. After his victory, he told the media: “I am so happy today that I won because it was not an easy match. I am happy that my backhand worked well in the match because I was afraid to use it against my friend, Omar Assar whom I know was in his best form this time. I think Omar Assar played well and that I was just lucky today because sometimes luck plays a crucial role in our matches.”
Quadri’s female colleague, Olufunke Oshonaike, however, lost the crown at the final of the ITTF Africa Cup, beaten 0-4 by Dina Meshref of Egypt.
Anthony Joshua, Nigerian- born British heavyweight boxer, was in the news in 2017, after beating Wladimir Klitschko in April 2017, becoming the unified world heavyweight champion. The fight lasted eleven rounds, and was regarded as one of the greatest in history. Expressing his joy after the fight, the former Olympic gold medalist, who traced his root to Sagamu, Ogun State, said: “I’m happy, if anything, that it was a great fight because there was a lot of hype, a lot of attention around the fight, and I’m glad it lived up to expectations.”
The Nigerian female Basketball team, D’Tigress will not forget 2017 in a hurry, as they emerged champions of the 2017 FIBA Women’s Afrobasket, beating Senegal 65-48 in the final in Mali. The players were rewarded by President Muhammadu Buhari with N1 million each and N500,000 each for the officials. Their victory also meant that they would represent Africa at the 2018 FIBA Women Basketball World Cup in Spain.
The same could not be said for their male counterparts as they lost 65-77 to Tunisia, in the 2017 Afro-basket tournament in Rades, Tunisia. They had hoped to defend the title they won in 2015, but the hosts proved too strong.
The IAAF World Athletics Championship took place in London, this year, with Nigeria winning no medal for the third year running, despite having Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor (the fastest African woman), Tobiloba Amusan, Glory Nathaniel, Samson Nathaniel, Commonwealth Games long jump queen Ese Brume, Chukwuebuka Enekwachi and Edose Ibadin in the team. Okagbare failed at the long jump final, finishing seventh.
Plateau United emerged the new kings of the Nigeria Professional Football League, NPFL, in September. They defeated Enugu Rangers 2-0 on the final day to clinch their first league title, finishing with 66 points. They earned N50 million for achieving that feat and will, alongside the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Football Club of Lagos, MFM FC, represent Nigeria at the CAF Champions League next year.
The year finally rounded up with the Super Eagles of Nigeria putting a smile on the faces of football lovers by qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, from a group where they were written-off. A massive 4-0 victory over Cameroon on September 1 in Uyo put the Eagles one foot at the mundial, but Alex Iwobi sealed the spot with his lone goal over Zambia in October, leaving the last match against Algeria a formality. Although Nigeria were forced to a 1-1 result away in Algeria, the match was eventually awarded to the Desert Warriors as a result of Nigeria fielding an ineligible player, Shehu Abdullahi. The midfielder was adjudged to have failed to serve as an automatic one-match suspension imposed on him as a result of receiving a caution in two separate matches of the qualifiers.
Nigeria are in Group D of Russia 2018 and will go up against perennial World Cup opponents Argentina. It will be the fifth time both teams will square up at the global tournament. Other teams in the group are Croatia and Iceland.
– Dec 29, 2017 @ 17:09 GMT |