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Year 2013 In Review (II)

I deliberately reserved that for this week because the foundation of every nation’s football, nay sports, is in the youth system. Like myself, other members…

I deliberately reserved that for this week because the foundation of every nation’s football, nay sports, is in the youth system. Like myself, other members of the NFF Executive Committee and Management were fascinated by the performance of the boys and felt they gave hope for the future with their dazzling skills and great conduct, on and off the pitch.
The truth, however, is that we all had been long assured of the strength, capacity and ability of these boys before they left the country for the tournament. Yes, something happened and they could not win the African championship in Morocco, losing to Cote d’Ivoire on penalties, but throughout the qualifying series for that competition in Morocco, we all saw a team that took no prisoners and delivered with the precision of a surgeon and the relentlessness of the bull.
In the United Arab Emirates, the warning was well served with a comprehensive 6-1 overhauling of then reigning world champions, Mexico, in a game that must have shocked the football world.
Dismantling the Cup holders in such non-challant manner in the first match brought a lot of attention to the Nigerian youngsters but they never crumbled.
Yet, their second match proved to be the most challenging one. Sweden raced into a two-goal lead within 20 minutes and it was looking like our boys’ decimation of Mexico was only a fluke. But trust these wonder boys – they stormed back into contention and ended the match on level terms (3-3).
In brushing aside Iraq, and Iran after that, the boys reclaimed their favourites’ status and the bookmakers were once again falling over themselves to have Nigeria in front of their books. It would be Uruguay in the quarter finals, in Sharjah, but the Eaglets refused to be moved by stories of the South Americans having beaten the Super Eagles at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil few months earlier.
They won handsomely to claim a place in the last four, against Sweden.
I remember very well that match in Dubai. The Honourable Minister of Sports and Chairman of National Sports Commission, Alhaji Bolaji Abdullahi had arrived in Dubai in the early hours and after only a few hours’ rest, he insisted on seeing the players and their coaches. At the session, he praised their efforts and then doubled their win-bonus for the match. Of course, the entire team was ecstatic.
This gesture followed the extraordinary visit of the President of Confederation of African Football, Alhaji Issa Hayatou, to the Team Nigeria abode at the Intercontinental Hotel. The CAF President had expressed delight at the team’s performance and charged them to go and do the continent proud by winning the trophy.
Surely, these constituted unusual motivation and the boys were bound to react in a marvelous way. Sweden, which had proved somewhat stubborn in the group phase, was the unfortunate opposition. And in the final, it was again Mexico, Cup holders who had recovered well from their first-day thumping to make it to the championship match.
Everyone believed the Mexicans had learnt their lesson, and would confront the Golden Eaglets powerfully. Everyone, except the rampaging Eaglets. In Abu Dhabi on Friday, 8th November, the boys coached by Garba Manu achieved a record fourth win in the FIFA U-17 World Cup, sweeping the Mexicans aside 3-0 to depose them.
The NFF is happy with the feat of the boys and has decided that, unlike what happened in the past, these boys must be appropriately monitored in order that the bulk of them can graduate to the next level, and to the next level, and then to the senior level. We are fully in support of the plan by the National Sports Commission to organise a retreat for the players and their officials and some NFF officials in order to look critically at how to achieve this.
The first step is to get the boys to know that they are ambassadors of Nigeria, on and off the pitch. The NFF Technical department has been doing a lot of work in that area. Once they know they are ambassadors of Nigeria, all their actions off and on the pitch would be different, and this would see to them becoming the great human beings that they have been professed to become.
Also, during the year, the NFF Executive Committee, Management and Staff had reasons to be over the moon, with the commissioning of the ultra-modern, world class NFF Headquarters, by the Vice President, His Excellency, Architect Mohammed Namadi Sambo.
That date, July 18, would remain indelible in the annals of Nigeria football history, and the credit would go to the present administration headed by His Excellency, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, and the presidential task force on Nigeria’s qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, from whose covers the money for the construction came from.
The project, sitted majestically in the Package B of the National Stadium, Abuja (close to the FIFA Technical Centre), is the first time that the NFF would have its own permanent headquarters.
Also in the outgoing year, we are happy to have been able to organise quality elite and refresher ccourses for our coaches, referees and administrators, and also retain coaches’, players’ and staff’ welfare at the front burner.
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Next Week: Our Expectations for First Quarter of 2014

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