As we cruise into the last month of the year 2012, the expectations of the entire Executive Committee and Management of the Nigeria Football Federation include seeing the Golden Eaglets grab a ticket to the 2013 African U-17 Championship in Morocco; a highly successful Annual General Assembly and a successful camping programme for the home-based professionals ahead of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations finals in South Africa.
Following a 2-0 win in the first leg against their much-bigger and heavier Malian opponents in Calabar on 18th November, the Eaglets take on the Junior Eagles in Bamako tomorrow determined to overcome.
No doubt, the Eaglets would have finished the job right here with a handsome win in Calabar, if they had not thrown away so many chances that came their way. But in football, this happens and we just have to understand with the young men and encourage them for the return leg.
There were widespread fears about the team's safety in a volatile Bamako and many expressed uncertainty, hoping the boys and their officials would not suffer the same fate as befell players and officials of Sunshine Stars FC when the latter went to Mali for a CAF Champions League match against Djoliba earlier in the year. I received a number of text messages and mails wondering what we had done as a Federation to guarantee the delegation's safety.
Of course, as is our practice, we had reached out to the Embassy of Nigeria in Bamako much earlier, pleading with them to extend all possible courtesies to our delegation members and also mobilize Nigerians in Bamako to make the team feel at home during and after the match.
Our heartfelt appreciation goes to the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to Mali, His Excellency Iliya Nuhu who was personally present at the Aeroport International Bamako Senou on Wednesday to receive the delegation, as they arrived aboard ASKY airline flight. He welcomed the team heartily and led them to their Hotel Columbus, while promising that the Embassy would ensure the team does not miss much even though most of the Embassy staff are in Accra, Ghana for a conference.
I am also happy that the Head Coach acknowledged that the Hotel Columbus is much better than the accommodation the team had in previous away matches in Niamey and Conakry. The NFF also made arrangement for the team to be served Nigerian food. For all these, we expect the team will feel absolutely in comfort and will go all out for victory on Sunday.
It is unthinkable that a leading youth football-playing nation like ours has not been at the African U-17 Championship since lifting the trophy in Togo in 2007. In 2009, the team coached by Alphonsus Dike lost out to Benin Republic and Nigeria was missing at the African finals but Nigeria played in the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup by virtue of being host nation.
In 2011, distractions here and there meant the NFF Board was unable to provide the team coached by Monday Odigie with adequate attention and the team faltered against Congo Brazzaville.
The present NFF administration is also keen to see the U-17 team reach the finals in Morocco, as it will help the development process of a group that we see as the future of Nigeria football.
Away from U-17 football, the NFF is getting set for its 2012 Annual General Assembly, which the Board approved on Wednesday to take place in Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State.
As usual, the Annual General Assembly will welcome all members of the Congress: Chairmen of Football Associations of 36 States and FCT; Secretaries of 36 State Football Associations and the FCT; the Chairmen and Secretaries of the Leagues; Chairmen and Secretary of Coaches Association, Referees Association and Players' Union.
There will be a number of special guests, past presidents and general secretaries of the NFF and several observers and stakeholders of the Nigeria game.
Two days later, in Lagos, a fund-raising dinner for the Super Eagles' campaign at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations finals in South Africa will be held with His Excellency, Governor Babatunde Fashola (SAN) as chief host.
There will be another dinner somewhere in the south-south zone to raise funds for the team before the camp opens for the home-based professionals on 17 December.
We expect the Head Coach, Mr. Stephen Keshi back from the United States of America next weekend, and by Monday, he would be in Abuja to supervise arrangements ahead of the camping.
It is from this camping programme that the best of the home boys will be picked for the final phase of the preparation in Portugal. The home boys will depart the country some days before the end of the year and will be joined by the overseas-based pros on 4th January.
The Nigeria Football Federation also expects that sometime this month, the Nigeria Premier League will be able to hold its Seventh Congress and announce a day for the commencement of the 2012/2013 League Season, after all lingering issues and outstanding matters must have been conclusively resolved.