| By Anayo Ezugwu |
FOR most soccer enthusiasts in Nigeria, 2013 was the best year for sport witnessed in over a decade. Unlike previous years when the country’s soccer teams recorded series of disappointing outings culminating in the failure of the Super Eagles to qualify for the Nations Cup jointly hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon in 2012, 2013 came with bright spots. Within the year, the Super Eagles won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations hosted by South Africa.
The Super Eagles also qualified for its fifth FIFA World Cup, thus becoming the first African country to qualify for the 2014 World Cup to be hosted in Brazil. The country, which had previously qualified in 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2010, would be travelling to Brazil with the hope of passing the knock-out stage since France 1998. Nigeria’s home based Super Eagles, also qualified for the 2014 CAF African Nations Championships, CHAN, for the first time. The tournament will be hosted by South Africa in January 2014.
In November, the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria made history in world football by winning the FIFA Under-17 World Cup tournament in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. This feat made Nigeria the first team to win the youth grade competition for a record fourth time. Nigeria also finished the sporting year on a brighter note. The country was ranked 36 in the FIFA global rankings and 4th in Africa, behind Cote D’Ivoire, Algeria, and Ghana.
In athletics, Blessing Okagbare, made the country proud by winning medals at the last World Athletics Championship in Moscow, Russia. She became the only Nigerian athlete to win a silver medal in long jump and also bronze in the 200m event.
In December, the nation’s fine run in sports continued in Malaysia where the nation’s weightlifting team won the 2013 Commonwealth weightlifting championship. Nigeria won a total of eight gold, three silver and three bronze medals to lift the female championship trophy. In the first edition of the African Youth Athletics Championships, hosted by Delta State for Under 17, Nigeria topped the medals table with 13 gold medals and 35 medals overall.
It was not success all the way. The national Under 20 team failed to live up to expectation at the FIFA Under 20 World Cup, held in Turkey. The team was bundled out of the tournament at the second round by Uruguay. John Obuh, coach of the team resigned after the disappointing outing.
In March, death sneaked into the football family and took away Okey Isima, a former Super Eagles player. He died after a prolonged illness. Isima was a great Nigerian footballer, a member of the 1980 Green Eagles that won the African Cup of Nations for the first time in the history of Nigeria. He was also a member of the Nigerian team to the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, Russia, as well as the 1982 African Cup of Nations in Libya.
On the European stage, Bayern Munich, of Germany, won the UEFA Champions League for the 2012-2013 season. In England, Alex Ferguson, former Manchester United coach retired after coaching the team for more than 25 years. He retired after winning the English Primier League, EPL, for the 2012-2013 season. Before his retirement, he was one of the most successful coaches in the history of club football. He won 12 EPL titles, two UEFA Champions League, five FA Cup and seven Capital One championship.
The year also witnessed the biggest ever transfer deal. In Spain, Real Madrid FC bought Garth Bale for $100 million, from Tottenham Hotspur, making him the most expensive football player on earth.
Most European clubs changed coaches during the summer. David Moyes, former Everton coach replaced Ferguson at Manchester United while Jose Mourinho, former Real Madrid coach, made an emotional return to Chelsea FC, the club of his choice. Manuel Pellegrini, former Malaga FC of Spain coach replaced Roberto Mancini, who was sacked before the end of the season at Manchester City. However, Carlo Ancelotti, former PSG coach, was appointed the new coach of Real Madrid to replace Mourinho. Pep Guardiola, former Barcelona coach replaced Jupp Heynckes, treble winning coach at Bayern Munich. Likewise, FC Barcelona appointed Gerardo Martino as the replacement for Tito Vilanova, who stepped down on health conditions.
In Nigeria, some coaches moved from one club to the other at the end of the 2012-2013 season. Mohammed Babaganaru, former Kano Pillars coach signed a five-year contract with Nasaarawa United, while Kadiri Ikhana, was appointed to replace him. Ndubuisi Nduka, former Heartland FC coach joined newly promoted club, FC Taraba. El Kanemi Warriors also appointed Sahsu Yusuf, former Enyimba FC coach as their new head coach.
Apart from the successes recorded by the Super Eagles and some other African national teams, five Super Eagles players were nominated for the Glo-CAF in 2013 for their performances in the year under review. They include Mikel Obi, Emmanuel Emenike, Vincent Enyeama, Ahmed Musa and Sunday Mba. Stephen Keshi, Super Eagles coach and Manu Garba, Golden Eaglets coach were among the nominees for the Coach-of-the-Year Award, while Nigeria was also listed for the National-Team-of-the-Year Award.
— Jan. 6, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT