5 January 2013

Nigeria: Brilliant Year 2012 Ushers in 2013 of Huge Expectations

It was a memorable experience being inside the stadium ground of Espanyol FC of Spain, in Barcelona City, on Wednesday evening and watching every bit of the action as the Super Eagles held Catalonia to a 1-1 draw in an international friendly.

I remembered how, five years or so ago, the same Catalans had dealt a 5-0 blow to the Super Eagles in another friendly, and considering that the team was just coming into camp for final training programme leading to the Cup of Nations, with some players based in Europe still to report, it was not a bad outing for our team.

Coach Stephen Keshi said after the match that his boys showed hunger and ambition and that was what mattered, even more than the result. I agree with him. The purposiveness of the Super Eagles, coupled with their doggedness, tenacity and confidence were all endearing to the eye.

The Catalans started with a range of megastars of world football, from Xavi Hernandez to Carles Puyol and Sergio Gonzalez and the rest. The interesting thing was that Coach Keshi started with largely the home boys and though a mistake led to the penalty that gifted Catalonia the lead after only two minutes, they were not thoroughly overwhelmed.

The game was, of course, much better in the second half after the Eagles had really settled into their own and a few changes were made. The goal by Bright Dike was brilliant and we could even have won it, had Ikechukwu Uche kept his cool in front of goal on a couple of occasions.

The lessons of Barcelona (the tenacity, the result and the gradual improvement as the game wore on) would definitely help Coach Keshi when selecting his final squad, not forgetting of course, that about eight overseas-based players will still have to show their stuff in the Faro camp before that final list.

I was delighted with the performance in Barcelona not only for its implications for confidence as we count down to the 29th Africa Cup of Nations (South Africa 2013), but because we have started Year 2013 on a promising note, just where we left off from Year 2012.

Many were those analysts and seasoned commentators who predicted a rout for the Eagles as a result of the intimidating names that Catalonia paraded. But names don't play football anymore (Keshi is always reminding us) and where a rout could have unfolded, there was a promise kept.

Before that match on Wednesday, the Chairman of NFF Technical Committee, Barrister Chris Green, had assured me that the Super Eagles would not lie down to be flogged. Green is an incurable optimist who believes so much in the Nigeria National Teams and is also a workaholic. We had spoken at length on how a result would buoy confidence for the Africa Cup of Nations and in the end, agreed that the Eagles wee capable of springing a surprise.

The goal after two minutes was actually a mistake and tended to give the home team an edge early on, but our team's organization and movement drew praise from the Coach of Catalonia, the legend himself, Johan Cruyff at the end.

On Wednesday in Portugal, the Super Eagles will play another friendly, this time against African opposition, Cape Verde, and this will enable us to see the real team in action before Coach Keshi makes public his list of 23 players for South Africa 2013.

The result on Wednesday simply took us off well on where we left off in Year 2012, in which we had brilliant results in most competitions and everything we touched sparkled real great in the sun.

In the year 2012, the Super Eagles played a total of 12 matches, out of which the team won five, drew five and lost two. The two matches they lost were the friendlies against Egypt (close game in Dubai with the Egyptians scoring their winner late in the game against a wholly home-based Nigeria squad) and Peru (in Lima, with high altitude and all that). They lost to Egypt 2-3 and to Peru 0-1.

The Flying Eagles played a total of eight matches, out of which they won three, drew two and lost three. On the surface, it does not look impressive. But the matches they lost were at the Cape Town Intercontinental Tournament, and by scores of 3-2, 1-0 and 1-0 to Ghana, Argentina and South Africa respectively. It was a true wake-up call for Coach John Obuh, being the team's first international experience following the Class of 2011's quarter-final berth at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia. Alongside his assistants, Obuh worked much harder from that point and built a better squad.

The team won home and away against Tanzania in the 2013 African Youth Championship qualifying series and; drew in South Africa and beat the South Africans in Ilorin to qualify for Algeria 2013.

The Golden Eaglets played eight matches and won all eight! No contest, the National Team of the Year. They swept all before them and our prayer is that they should continue to show the same ferocity in the new year and years ahead, to take Nigeria football to El Dorado.

The Super Falcons won five of nine matches, drew two and lost two. Sadly, the two they lost were the most important: the African Women Championship semi final against South Africa, and the bronze medal match against Cameroon.

The Falconets played 12 matches and won eight, in sweeping aside African opposition to qualify for the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Japan, and reaching the semi finals at the world stage. Their losses were the semi final defeat by USA in Japan and defeat by Japan in the bronze medal match, and one friendly match in Ghana.

The Flamingos played eight matches and won six, sweeping aside African opposition and reaching the quarter final stage at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in Azerbaijan. Their only loss was the penalty shoot-out defeat by eventual winners France in the World Cup quarter final in Azerbaijan.

The Supersand Eagles were also good with five wins out of seven games, but they were particularly outstanding in retaining the COPA Lagos Beach Soccer Invitational Tournament in December, routing Argentina, Lebanon and Portugal. Their only losses in Year 2012 were at the Samsung Intercontinental Invitational Tournament in Dubai.

Brilliant Year 2012 has ushered in a Year 2013 full of great expectations, in which we expect the Super Eagles to do Nigeria proud at the Cup of Nations and qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup; the Flying Eagles to defend their African title and perform creditably at the U-20 World Cup in Turkey; the Golden Eaglets to annihilate every opposition on their way to the African title and also win the U-17 World Cup in UAE; the Supersand Eagles to do the country proud at the African Beach Soccer Championship in Morocco and impress at the World Cup in Tahiti and; our representative Clubs to fly the flag high in continental competitions.

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