| By Anayo Ezugwu |
FOR most soccer enthusiasts in Nigeria, 2012 was not a bad year for sport. Unlike the previous year when the country’s soccer teams recorded series of disappointing outings which culminated in the failure of the Super Eagles to qualify for the Nations Cup jointly hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, the year 2012 came with bright spots. Within the year, the Eagles qualified for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations to be hosted by South Africa after beating Liberia in October.
The Flying Eagles and Golden Eagles also qualified to represent the country at the respective continental championships at the age group level next year. At the London 2012 Para-Olympic Game, the country’s contingent won 13 medals comprising six gold, five silver and two bronze.
Nigeria also finished the sporting year on a brighter note. The country moved five places up the FIFA global rankings to 52nd and 10th in Africa behind Cote D’Ivoire, Algeria, Mali, Ghana, Zambia, Egypt, Gabon, Tunisia and the Central African Republic. The 18th National Sports Festival hosted by Lagos State was a huge success with the discovery of new talents. Delta State emerged winner of the competition to displace Rivers State which hosted and won the sport festival in 2011.
On the disappointing side, the Nigeria’s contingent to the 2012 London Olympics in August, failed to win a medal in what is regarded as the biggest sport failure in the country. The Super Falcons, Nigeria’s national senior women soccer team, also failed to retain the African Women Championship, held in South Africa, in October, championship which the team had won seven times.
The performances of the Falconets and the Flamingoes at the FIFA age-group Women Youth Championships were also not impressive. Both teams failed to reach the final in their various age-group competitions in August and September.
The 2011/2012 Nigeria Premier League season was equally disappointing. It was marred by controversies with the league running as the longest season in the history of Nigerian league. However, Kano Pillars won the league and will represent the country in the CAF champion’s league next year. Rangers international of Enugu also returned to the CAF champion’s league stage after finishing second in the league.
In May, death sneaked into the football family and took away Rashidi Yekini, a former Super Eagles player. He died after a brief illness. Until his death, Yekini remained Nigeria’s all time highest goal scorer. He scored 37 goals in 58 appearances for the Eagles.
On the European stage, the Spanish national team retained the European Nations Cup hosted by Ukraine and Poland. Chelsea FC of England won its first ever European Champions League in May while Manchester City FC of England also won their first English Premier League. In Spain, Real Madrid FC as well reclaimed the Spanish League from FC Barcelona
Apart from the successes recorded by some African national teams, some individuals were also recognised in 2012 for their efforts in the last soccer season. They include Yaya Toure of Cote d’Ivoire and Anonman Genoveva of Equatorial Guinea, who were both crowned the Glo-CAF African male and female footballer of the year.
Nigeria also played host to the Williams’ sisters. Serena and Venus Williams, two American tennis superstars who visited Nigeria in November to promote women involvement in sports. Evander Holyfield, the African-American boxing legend, also visited Nigeria in May. He visited Nigeria as a peace ambassador, seeking to build bridges across the country.
— Jan. 7, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT