The year 2013 has been described by the President of the Nigeria Olympic Commission (NOC) Engr. Sani Ndanusa as a year of reshaping and re-engineering of Nigerian sports sector, but many wouldn’t forget in a hurry the laurels and glory which came as a reward for the hardworking athletes.
Thus, there’s no disputing the fact that 2013 has been one of the best in Nigerian football history.
Nigeria’s Senior National Team (The Super Eagles)
The Coach Stephen Keshi-tutored side stunned the continent by clinching the African Cup of Nations (Afcon) for the third time in February following successes in 1980 (Nigeria) and 1994 (Tunisia).
Nigeria finish runners-up of Group C behind the team they would go on to beat in the final, Burkina Faso, after playing out a 1-1 draw with the Burkinabes in their first match, followed with another draw against the then champions Zambia before winning 2-0 against Ethiopia.
As runners-up in the preliminary round, the Eagles were pitted against the wits of title favourite Cote d’ Ivoire in the quarter-finals. They played their best game of the tournament and scaled the Elephants’ cliff, winning 2-1 to reach the semi-finals.
Then came the last four tie with Mali, which posed not an iota of threat to Nigeria’s title challenge, as the Eagles claimed a 4-1 win to set up Burkina Faso in the final. The Super Eagles edged the Stallions of Burkina Faso by a lone goal to clinch the championship.
The memories of missing out of Germany 2006 by the slightest of opportunities still hurts Nigerians and Keshi knew better than to allow a repeat of such ill luck halt his team rebuilding process.
The Super Eagles resumed their quest to reach Brazil 2014 Fifa World Cup finals in March as Nnamdi Oduamadi came up with a last gasp equaliser to end the duel with the Harambee Stars of Kenya at the UJ Esuene Stadium, Calabar, one-goal apiece.
The Eagles continued the fight for a a Brazil ticket in the hectic month of June with two successive away fixtures in the space of eight days against Kenya in Nairobi and Namibia in Windhoek.
Conscious of the fact they needed to step up if they were to make the list of 32 teams for Brazil, Nigeria beat Kenya 1-0 away and drew 1-1 in Windhoek.
As champions of Africa, the Eagles were due to represent the continent at the World Cup dress rehearsal- Confederation Cup- in Brazil, which was not spared of misunderstanding between the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and the players. The team refused to fly a scheduled flight to Sao Paulo following a bonus row between them and the football federation.
It took the intervention of the Sports Minister, Mallam Bolaji Abdulahi, acting on behalf of the sports-loving President Goodluck Jonathan to douse an impeding disgrace to the nation.
The Eagles would go on to play at the Confederation Cup in Brazil, winning Oceania debutantes, Tahiti, 6-1 in their opening fixture before subsequent losses to Uruguay and Spain. They failed to proceed into the Knock-out stage and returned home for the continuation of the World Cup qualifying series.
In July, Nigeria sealed her first ever ticket for the 2014 African Nations Championship (CHAN), after beating Cote d’Ivoire 4-1 at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna, and lost 2-0 in the second-leg in Abidjan, but claimed a slot in the tournament organised for players within the continent on goal difference.
The Super Eagles beat South Africa 2-0 to clinch the Nelson Mandela Challenge cup in August.
In September, the African champions booked a place in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers Confederation of African Football (CAF) zone third round playoff by defeating Malawi 2-0 in Calabar.
The Walya Antelopes welcomed the Super Eagles at the Olympic Stadium Addis Ababa in October in the first of a two-legged playoff to decide one of five African representatives at next summer’s World Cup.
Emmanuel Emenike scored twice to help Nigeria fight back from a goal down and beat the East Africans in the first-leg encounter.
Nigeria claimed a 2014 Fifa World Cup berth in November with a 2-0 comfortable victory over Ethiopia in the second-leg of the playoffs. the victory ensured the most populous African Nation her fifth appearance on the world’s biggest football stage following previous appearances in 1994 (USA), 1998 (France), 2002 (Korea and Japan) and 2010 (South Africa).
The draw for the 2014 Fifa World Cup finals in Brazil was concluded in December with Nigeria pitched with Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran in Group F.