Nigeria’s prospect of achieving success in the game of football in 2013 is high, writes Demola Ojo...
The London 2012 Olympic Games has come and gone and with it, the stark reality that Nigerian sports has a long way to go. The inability to win a medal of any kind was a dampener which compounded the ignominy of the national football team missing out on the African Cup of Nations earlier in the year.
It may take some time to build new structures and nurture new talents for the country to be proud of in the international arena, and plans by the Minister of Sports, Bolaji Abdullahi to unearth new talents via a national Under-17 sports festival may go some way in addressing this.
In the meantime, Nigeria’s favourite sport, football, might just provide succour for success-starved sports fans. The first opportunity for Nigeria to re-establish itself in African football will present itself at the African Cup of Nations holding in South Africa from January 19 to February 10.
While the expectations of many Nigerian fans have – understandably – been lowered due to the country’s slide into obscurity in recent years, the Stephen Keshi-tutored team might just pull a surprise and conquer the continent.
Admittedly, it is a little premature to make projections further than the African fiesta but if the Eagles come out successful, Nigerians will `have the opportunity of seeing their team play at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil. The competition will serve as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup next year.
Qualifiers for the World Cup will also continue next year. This will provide yet another opportunity to put smiles on the face of Nigerians, who would expect nothing less than qualification.
The hopes of Nigerians won’t have to rest solely on the senior national side though. The Under-20 national side have qualified to defend their title at the African Youth Championship which will take place in Algeria in March. A good showing there and they get to represent Nigeria at the Under 20 World Cup holding in Turkey between June and July.
The national Under 17 team have also showed good form by qualifying for the African Under 17 championship holding in another North African country, Morocco. The competition taking place in April will serve as qualifier for the global version to be held in the UAE in November.
There is also promise of better things in the national league with the approval of the NFF Congress which at its 68th Annual General Assembly in Port Harcourt mandated the NFF Executive Committee to set up an interim management committee to run the affairs of the Nigeria Premier League (NPL) for the 2012/2013 league season.
The 13-man committee to be headed by former House of Representative member, Hon Nduka Irabor also includes former international and two-time African footballer of the year, Kanu Nwankwo; and Lagos State FA chairman, Seyi Akinwunmi.
Football is guaranteed a centre stage in 2013 for a few more reasons. Among them is the second edition of the Soccerex Lagos football seminar slated for September. This year’s edition featured many renowned internationals including Real Madrid legend, Christian Karembeu; former Dutch international, Pierre Van Hooijdonk; African stars Sunday Oliseh, Sammy Kuffour, Joseph Antoine Bell and many others. They all shared experiences and information on how to progress the game in Nigeria. Next year’s edition promises the same.
Finally to a sport that is not really football technically speaking, the COPA Lagos beach soccer is bound to return for the third time in as many years. The international event which would be held in December as had the Sand Eagles of Nigeria as winners in the past two editions. Who is to say that they won’t repeat the feat and hopefully, cap a glorious year for Nigeria in the round leather game?