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Year 2013 In Review (1)

We started the year with an excellent outing at the prestigeous international friendly match against Catalonia (Catalunya?) in the City of Barcelona, with the Super…

We started the year with an excellent outing at the prestigeous international friendly match against Catalonia (Catalunya?) in the City of Barcelona, with the Super Eagles handed the trophy for the occasion after a battling 1-1 draw against a team that included a number of star players of FC Barcelona.
The excitement from there stayed until a 0-0 draw with Cape Verde in another friendly in Faro, Portugal as the boys knocked into shape for the 29th Africa Cup of Nations finals in South Africa.
In truth, as we headed to South Africa, very few persons apart from the players, coaching and backroom staff and the Nigeria Football Federation believes a fair mixture of overseas-based stars and home-based players could stand up to the continent’s juggernauts.
Results of the first two matches did not help matters, with the Eagles risking elimination if they did not beat Ethiopia, after 1-1 draws with Burkina Faso and defending champions Zambia. On each occasion, we conceded a late goal to finish with one point instead of three. Against Ethiopia, it looked like going wrong with all of 80 minutes played and no goal. But things changed in Rustenburg and we converted two late penalties to go through into the quarter finals.
Being pitched against Cote d’Ivoire at that stage looked intimidating enough, but at a pre-match talk in the team hotel, I had assured the boys that the whole of Nigeria, including President Goodluck Jonathan, GCFR, had confidence in them to go out there and do the country proud.
They did exactly that, pushing the Elephants out, and then mauled Mali in the semi finals to set up a final against Burkina Faso in Soweto.  President Jonathan, who has proved to be so much an inspiration, motivator and father figure for all the National Teams, spoke to the players before the match, and assured them that he would be at the final to cheer them up. But even though an unscheduled visit to Europe denied him that opportunity, the President monitored the match and was ecstatic as the Super Eagles won.
On several occasions this year, President Jonathan had cause to host National Teams that excelled at international competitions to State Receptions, thereby encouraging players and coaches. Apart from the Super Eagles, who were duly hosted and handsomely rewarded on 12th February, the U-17 and U-20 National Teams also benefitted from the President’s magnanimity at State Receptions in May and November.
The U-17 boys were there twice. First, they were honoured for finishing second at the CAF U-17 Championship in Morocco, where they could not decode the dice of Cote d’Ivoire, which the Super Eagles did in South Africa. Twice they met in Morocco, twice the Ivorians prevailed, though they had to wait for penalties in the final match.
The U-20 boys surrendered the African crown in Algeria but they finished third and in the process, qualified for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey, and striker Aminu Umar finished as competition Top Scorer.
Then came the jumbo June. The Super Eagles won one and drew one of two crucial away matches in the qualifying race for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, knowing full well that victory over Malawi in Calabar in September would take then to Brazil 2014. The African champions also represent the continent at the FIFA Confederations Cup, winning one match (against Tahiti) and losing two (against Uruguay and Spain).
It was the same month that the Flying Eagles participated at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey, after a solid preparatory programme that took them through the Toulon International Tournament and camping in Germany and Austria. However, the boys faltered and could not go beyond the Round of 16.
The home-based professionals, known as Super Eagles Team B, faced a daunting task of qualifying for the African Nations Championship for the first time, after they were pitched against Cote d’Ivoire. But they acquitted themselves well, winning 4-1 in Kaduna and managing to stem the tide in Abidjan (lost 0-2) to go through to the South Africa 2014 finals.
Next month, the Super Eagles Team B will take part in the finals of the competition reserved for players doing their thing in their domestic Leagues in Africa, for the first time. Already, the boys are in camp intensifying preparations and will soon know the 23 players who would feature at the finals starting on January 11.
The story of 2013 is almost all about the Super Eagles, but the performance of the U-17 boys at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in United Arab Emirates is worth a generous mention. That will come next week.
However, it is important to remember that in August, the Super Eagles won yet another glittering trophy (making it three in 2013). This time, it was at the Nelson Mandela Challenge contest in Durban when beating the Bafana Bafana 2-0 to claim the prize.
Next week, I will recap the Super Eagles’ with-ease collection of 2014 FIFA World Cup ticket, record triumph of the Golden Eaglets at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013, the Falconets’ record bashing of Sierra Leone in a 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup fixture, the Final Draw of 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and the triumph of the Supersand Eagles at the COPA Lagos that gave them the trophy for keeps.
Next Week: Year 2013 In Review (2)

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