Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga
For some Nigerians, the year 2017 may not have brought the needed change they expected due to several factors occasioned mainly by the poor economic situation of the country. Notwithstanding, the nation’s sports was able to weather the storm, with some individuals and teams going the extra mile to put smiles on the faces of millions of Nigerians. Gowon Akpodonor looks at some of these events that shaped the nation’s sports in 2017
Super Eagles’ Smooth
Flight To Russia 2018 World
After a few years of underwhelming results coupled with failure to qualify for the last two editions of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournaments, the Super Eagles were able to display performances reminiscent of the glory days of Nigerian football. The team did not only survive the ‘group of death’ but posted a fantastic result in their journey to Russia 2018 World Cup.
With a group that had dangerous customers- Algeria, Cameroun and Zambia, the Eagles proved bookmakers wrong by finishing top even with a match to go in the race.
Friday September 2, 2017 will go down as one of the memorable days in Nigerian football history. It was a day Nigeria took a step into the Russia 2018 World Cup, when the Super Eagles reduced the Indomitable Lions to sobbing cubs at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo, winning 4-0.
Earlier on arrival for the game, the Camerounian delegation rejected the five-star Ibom Le Meridien Hotel and Golf Resorts, Uyo, provided by the Akwa Ibom State government and opted for Davok Suites. They claimed that they had information that Nigeria had rigged the hotel with charms meant to weaken them. But such ‘precautions’ could not help the Indomitable Lions’ cause as the Eagles showed why they are the team to beat in Group B of the qualifying series.
The 4-0 victory over the dreaded Indomitable Lions of Cameroun in August was followed by a 1-0 win over a boastful Chipolopolo of Zambia in October to ensure that coach Gernot Rohr and his army were the first African team to qualify for the Mundial.
… Beat Argentina 4-2
To prove to the entire world that the qualification to Russia 2018 World Cup was not by chance, the Super Eagles posted an impressive win over former World champions, Argentina. It was another landmark on November 14, as the Eagles fought a superlative comeback from 2-0 down to carry the day 4-2 in the city of Krasnodar, Russia.
A brace from Alex Iwobi and a goal each from debutant, Bryan Idowu and Kelechi Iheanacho secured the impressive win for the Eagles.
The presence of superstars in the La Albiceleste squad including Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala and Angel Di Maria could not stop the rampaging Eagles. The win is Nigeria’s second in eight meetings against Argentina who have five wins. The defeat provoked Argentina legend, Diego Maradona, who stated his desire to return as Argentina’s coach. The Eagles have been paired alongside Argentina, Croatia and Iceland in same group in the Russia 2018 World Cup.
Pinnick Wins Seat
In CAF Executive
For the 60 years of CAF’s existence, only two Nigerians – Etubom Oyo Orok Oyo (of blessed memory) and Dr. Amos Adamu – have sat on the CAF Executive Committee.
An attempt by former NFA President Alhaji Aminu Maigari to join the club in 2013 ended in flame as some Nigerians allegedly worked against him, using their connections with former CAF President Issa Hayatou to scuttle his dream.
Before then, former NFA chairman, Alhaji Ibrahim Galadima made attempt, but the ‘cabals’ in Nigerian football also killed his ambition. It was the same for another NFA Chairman, Alhaji Sani Lulu, whose ambition of making it into the CAF Executive Committee was equally blocked by some ‘cabals’.
But on March 16, 2017, NFF President Amaju Pinnick made what was termed impossible mission possible in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, defeating the incumbent, Anjorin Moucharafou of Benin Republic 32-17 votes to the seat in the supreme club at the 39th Ordinary Congress of CAF. Pinnick’s election made him the third Nigerian ever to sit on the CAF Executive Committee.
For Pinnick and his followers however, the journey into the CAF Executive seat was full of bumpers. Pinnick is vice president of WAFU B, a member of the Organizing Committee for the Africa Cup of Nations as well as a member of the Organizing Committee for FIFA Competitions.
Nigerian Bobsled Team
Qualify For Winter Olympics
What year it has been for the trio of former Nigerian sprinters, Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga. The Bobsled team with sheer passion and determination started a go-fund-me account to fund their dream of being the first Nigerians at the Winter Olympics.
A year later, their dreams became fulfilled as they qualified for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea after completing races in Utah, Whistler and Calgary during the qualifiers.
Bobsleighing is a Winter Sport in which teams of two to four competitors make timed runs down a narrow, twisted, banked, iced track in a gravity-powered sled, competing to reach the finish line.
The qualification of the Nigerian Bobsled Team, led by former president of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) Chief Solomon Ogba, was one of the high points of Nigerian sports in 2017.
D’Tigress Win AfroBasket Title
What the men could not do, Nigeria’s Women senior basketball team did in style, winning Women’s AfroBasket title.
The Nigerian women defeated Senegal in the final in August to win the Women’s Basketball title at the tournament hosted by Mali. Courtesy of progressing to the Final, the D’Tigress also qualified for the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Spain.
Plateau United Lift NPFL Title
Plateau United Football Club of Jos shocked many by running away with the 2017 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) title, the first league trophy in their 422-year-history.
The Jos-based club was solid all through the 2016/2017 season, maintaining a top-two position on the NPFL table from matchday two to the final day when they clinched the title.
The Kennedy Boboye-led side finished the season with 66 points-19 wins, nine draws, 10 losses, scored 49 goals and conceded 25.
Wrestler With A Big Heart
In August this year, Nigeria’s sensational wrestler, Odunayo Adekuoroye places Nigeria on medals table for first time after winning a silver medal at the 2017 World Wrestling Championships in Paris, France. It was the first time Nigeria is on the medals table. Adekuoroye narrowly lost to Haruna Okuno of Japan 4-5 in the final of the 55kg women’s freestyle.
Adekuoroye is ranked No. 1 in Africa and won gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and bronze at the 2015 World Wrestling Championships in the U.S.
Adekuoroye was the first woman from Nigeria to march into the gold medal final at Senior World Wrestling Championships. The Ondo State-born wrestler started her campaign by defeating Mathilde Helene 13-9 in the qualification round to move to the Round of 16. She then proved too-much-a-nut-to-crack for Lenka Martinakova as she defeated the Czech Republic wrestler 10-0.
In her quarter-final match, the three-time African champion out-powered Mongolia’s Davaachimeg Erkhembayar 8-4 before going ahead to defeat U-23 European Champion, Irina Kurachkina of Belarus 10-0 in the semi-final.
Aruna Quadri… A Record Setter
In October, Nigerian table tennis star, Aruna Quadri made another giant stride, winning the Polish Open men’s singles title. Quadri was the only African to make it to the quaterfinals at the World Cup and at Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
His performance in Poland made Quadri the first African to win an ITTF title outside the continent. At the Liebherr 2014 Men’s World Cup in Düsseldorf, Quadri became the first player from Africa to reach the quarterfinal stage of the prestigious tournament. He replicated the feat last year in Brazil in the Men’s Singles event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, where against all expectations, he reached the round of the last eight.
Aruna Quadri is known for setting records through self determination in a country where sports is not accorded its rightful place by the government.