BY OMISAKIN AYOBAMI
The year 2014, in terms of sports, can be described as a large-wrapped parcel that is laden with a whole lot of treasures. It is the kind year that many sports lovers look forward into; always exciting, never ever dull. Although there hosts of activities lined up, this article will narrow the lens of focus to the major activities in which our dear country Nigeria will be involved, and of course, to examine our chances in these various competitions.
THE CHAN 2014
A BRIEF HISTORY
The African Nations Championship is a tournament for all home based African players. It is an opportunity for African footballers based within the continent to showcase their talents. Its inaugural edition was won by DR Congo on the coast of ivory 5 years ago; the second edition was won by Tunisia on Sudanese soil in 2011. The CHAN 2014 is the third edition. The tournament started on the 11th day of January and shall end on the 1st of February.
The Super Eagles are appearing for the first time in this competition. But the tag of debutants has not stopped pundits from considering the men from West Africa as major contenders for the title, with a triumphant performance on the same grounds this time last year and the extra cutting edge that the Big Boss adds to this team, such expectation is realistic. However, there is more to hope for from this team. Stephen Keshi himself had this to say before the start of the tournament- “It is not possible to build a team for a major championship in three weeks, not even Fabio Capello or Arsene Wenger can do that. However, I know the boys are physically and mentally prepared for what lies ahead and are ready to make Nigerians proud.”
In addition, the injuries and the departure of some key players to foreign clubs have also affected the team. All in all, the Super Eagles have a chance of soaring again and the victory against the hosts is not just a morale booster but a pointer to the inherent talents in this team. Nigeria is currently in the Q-finals of the competition and will be facing the Moroccans on the 25th of January.
THE COMMONWEALTH GAMES
A BRIEF HISTORY
The Commonwealth Games is scheduled to hold from July 23 to Aug. 3 in Glasgow, Scotland. There are 17 events at this competition out of which Nigeria will participate in 6. At the last Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India, Nigeria won 11 gold, 10 silver and 14 bronze medals, coming ninth overall; the country’s track and field team put excellent performance reminiscent of its outing in Auckland, New Zealand in 1990 and Victoria, Canada in 1994. Immediately after the Commonwealth Games is the Para-Commonwealth games in which Nigeria will also participate in 3 events.
Nigeria will participate in six events at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. The events are Boxing, Athletics, Weight-lifting, Wrestling, Rugby and Table-tennis in both male and female categories. No fewer than 30 Nigerian elite athletes have commenced training in various locations for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Some of them have suspended any form of celebrations in their off-season just to concentrate on their build-up plans.
In Athletics, the biggest names for Nigeria are Blessing Okagbare, Obinna Metu, Egwero-Ogho Oghene, and Fred Agbaje. Blessing Okagbare (Africa’s fastest female sprinter with 10.79 sec) and Obinna Metu (Nigeria’s fastest male sprinter with 10.12 sec) are the 2 that should be watched out for. Blessing will be looking to build on her exploits at the World Championships while Obinna, who was missing at that championship, will be eager to prove why he is regarded as Nigeria’s best. A lot is being expected in Athletics; Nigeria should be able to clinch some medals.
In addition, Team Nigeria’s chances of winning medals in the Weight lifting category are very high. Excellent performances in various competitions during the past year serve as testaments to this fact. Team Nigeria’s weightlifters were at their Commonwealth Games qualifiers in Malaysia recently and with bag full of medals.
Table tennis is also looking to make an impact at the games. Lagos State Sports Commissioner, Wahid Enitan Oshodi who presides over the Nigerian Table Tennis Federation as President has brought sanity to the game. Lagos hosted an I.T.T.F approved tournament last year and the country’s players have been busy moving around the continent for various competitions.
Nigeria’s chances in the wrestling category are quite fair. Barring injuries, lack of proper preparation and funding, the wrestling contingent shall deliver goods. The sport has witnessed a revival after years of being ran aground; considering the competitions in which they excelled back in 2013, e.g. the Commonwealth Wrestling Championship in South Africa, Daniel Igali Wrestling Clinic, E.K Clark Wrestling Championship and Gov. Seriake Dickson Wrestling Championship, it is safe to be optimistic about performance of Nigerian wrestlers at the Glasgow Championships.
Unlike its Wrestling Counterpart, Boxing has not been Nigeria’s forte in recent past. Much should not be expected from the Boxing category, it would be a miracle if Nigeria gets any medal from there. The nation’s performance in 2013 was below par, and that only serves as an echo of what to expect in Scotland.
In the same manner, Nigeria cannot take solace in Rugby. The nation has been drawn with the host country, alongside gold medal favorites New Zealand and Canada. New Zealand is 12th placed in the world while Canada is 13th placed. New Zealand has set a high standard in the Commonwealth games, winning the gold in every tournament and in doing so unbeaten. With all due respect, Nigeria should just see this as a medium of gaining more experience for subsequent rugby competitions.
FIFA U-17 WOMEN’S WORLD CUP.
A BRIEF HISTORY
As one of several ever-present teams at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, Nigerians can look back at a rich history in the competition, having twice qualified for the quarter-final stage. Together with Ghana, the Flamingoes have represented their continent at all three previous U-17 women’s finals. After being eliminated on goal difference at their first attempt in 2008, the team topped their group two years later. They were knocked out in the next round in one of the all-time classic matches of the competition, going down 6-5 after extra time against eventual winners, Korea Republic. In 2012, the Flamingoes again won their group. Hopes of becoming the first African team to reach the semi-finals, however, were dashed as they were beaten on penalties by France, who went on to lift the trophy.
Nigeria qualified for the finals of the under-17 competition without playing a single match. Together with South Africa, the West Africans received a bye into the final round of the preliminaries, where they were drawn against South Sudan, who themselves had advanced to the second round after Morocco withdrew from the competition. However, the east Africans pulled out of the competition before the first match, giving Nigeria a place at the finals without the chance to kick a ball. Coach Bala Nkiyu, who took over the team shortly before the scheduled qualifiers against South Sudan, said that he is confident his side will prove tough in Costa Rica, even though they have not played a competitive game since the last World Cup. “I will not predict how we will finish because you have to respect your opponents, but I am sure we will have a good team.” Nkiyu brings the experience of having been an assistant to Uche Eucharia at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. “Nigerian women’s football has traditionally been very strong in Africa, and we are challenging globally at youth level. With good preparations, we will be a force to be reckoned with in Costa Rica,” said Nkiyu, who has also coached teams in Nigeria’s Premier League. We have not actually seen this team in action but based on Nigeria’s exploits in age grade competitions, it is safe to expect a title challenge from this team. The Nigerian team is grouped with China PR(2nd appearance), Mexico(3rd appearance) and Colombia (3rd appearance).The likes of Mexico and Colombia would Nigeria close but the Flamingoes should have what it takes to scale past this stage.
THE FIFA WORLD CUP
A BRIEF HISTORY
This is the 5th time the Super Eagles will be the mundial. However, a second round exit has been the best performance ever. A lot has been said about this and there be no need to add more.
The African Champions fell into a relatively easy group with Argentina being the major obstacle to progress. However, the Bosnians are in a class of their own and must not be overlooked; they might just end up finishing top of the group. The last team is Iran and quite frankly they are the scape goats of this group. All said and done, the Super Eagles have a good chance of finishing second in this group but that means facing a top placed team from the next group. With the quality of the Super Eagles though, a q-final exit is a realistic target.
*************** The draws for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup are yet to be held and as such, it would be foolhardy to talk of chances at this time. The draws are slated for the 1st of March, 2014 in Montreal, Canada. The final round of African qualifiers for Canada 2014 is being played on a home-and-away basis between 10th and 26th January 2014. Nigeria is 6-0 up from the first leg against South Africa and will hope to finish the job on 25th January. ***************
There is a lot going on for Nigeria in the world of sports. Having tasted glory and success in 2013, Nigerians will be hoping and praying that their thirsts for more will be quenched again this year. We, the Touchline UI crew, can only cross our fingers and toes as we sit back and relax to enjoy another year of sports regardless of Nigeria’s performances, and we advise you to do the same.
Let us know your opinions concerning these tournaments. In which competitions do you feel Nigeria can excel and the ones in which the chances are slim, what do you think?