Forget FIFA rankings, forget the poor following the domestic game enjoys at home or the sometimes, the man-made frailties on the part of administering the game in Nigeria, football definitely brought joy to the greatest number of Nigerians in 2017 than any other aspect of our the polity.
Politically, the country experienced all noise no direction. Indeed, the year ended in chaos as fuel scarcity dominated the Yuletide. Till now, there are still long fuel queues at numerous filling stations across the country.
In the midst of hopelessness, Nigeria football rose beyond expectations and saw the country qualifying for the 2018 World Cup with a match to spare; the first such feat by a Nigerian national team.
Nigeria’s qualification for 2018 World Cup
On the back of missing out of two African Cup of Nations, the Super Eagles were handed a tough World Cup qualifying draw with new manager Gernot Rohr having to navigate past African champions Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia.
When coach Gernot Rohr was employed by the Nigeria Football Federation, after the unproductive Sunday Oliseh era, there were a lot of doubts by football pundits who claimed the man’s early exploits in Burkina Faso were nothing exceptional. He was not given much chance to succeed even as NFF President, Amaju Pinnick put his office on the line, saying Rohr was good enough to give the country her sixth World Cup ticket.
Rohr took over a team in crisis as there was a lot of discontent among the players as the coach was at war with some of his key players. Vincent Enyeama announced what many considered as premature retirement from the national team, Emmanuel Emenike retired. Many others were either no longer enthusiastic to play again for the country or were just there for patriotic reasons.
When he settled for business Rohr reorganised his dressing room, harped on youth, dexterity and physicality.
His first assignment was an away match against Zambia in Ndola. The Super Eagles silenced the home crowd with a heart-warming 2-1 win away. Algeria, then the most dreaded team on the continent were next. They too fell 3-1 in Uyo. The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon too fell 4-0, went to Yaounde and drew 1-1 against the Lions. When they came back to Uyo for the second leg against Zambia, the East Africans were still hopeful of causing an upset against the well-oiled Eagles squad. But they gave a good account of themselves as they fought toe-to-toe with their Nigerian hosts. But Alex Iwobi rescued Nigeria with a solitary strike that earned her the ticket to Russia 2018 World Cup. The victory over Zambia made the match against Algeria inconsequential
Some players who made the Eagles one of the best teams in the continent include Captin John Mikel Obi, Victor Moses, Kelechi Iheanacho, Odion Ighalo, Leon Balogun, William Troost Ekong, Simon Moses, Shehu Abdullahi, Elderson Echejile, Oghenekaro Etebor, Ahmed Musa among others. This was the set of Eagles that restored Nigeria’s pride on the continent.
The re-emergence of Victor Moses
When Chelsea got Victor Moses from Wigan in 2013, it was undoubtedly a great move for the talented lad. He had a decent debut campaign, winning the Uefa Europa League. Then came his struggle no thanks to injuries and loss of form – which led to his loan moves to Liverpool, Stoke City and West Ham United. However, his fortune changed as he became a key figure in Antonio Conte’s squad – though was redeployed to an unfamiliar right wing-back position. He played a key role in the Blues English Premier League triumph. Aside this, he was inspirational as Nigeria qualified for the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia.
Pinnick’s election into CAF Executive Committee
After playing a key role in ensuring erstwhile CAF president Issa Hayatou was displaced by Madagascar’s Ahmad Ahmad, Amaju Pinnick saw massive progression in his ranking in Africa’s football politics. He won a seat on the executive committee of the Confederation of African Football. In May, during the first EXCO gathering after March’s election, the Nigeria Football Federation boss was appointed President of AFCON and Media Committees of CAF – Hayatou’s former post. His entrance into the topmost echelons of African football administration saw a return for Nigeria since the exit of the infamous Amos Adamu.
Nigeria humble Argentina in friendly
This has got to be Nigeria’s game of the year. Handing a 4-2 defeat to Argentina in Krasnodar is not an easy feat. Much of the pre-match talks had focused on how Gernot Rohr’s men would survive a side bereft of Lionel Messi but still beaming with world-class talents such as Paulo Dybala, Sergio Aguero and the likes. But after 90 minutes, the less-fancied Eagles finished the herculean task in stunning fashion.
Nigeria lose World Cup points to Algeria
BUT for the unassailable fourteen-point dominant lead Nigeria stamped on the earlier touted “zone of death”, in Group B of Africa’s World Cup qualification efforts, the nation could have been thrown into deep mourning after it was sanctioned by the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) on Tuesday, December 12, 2017.
FIFA announced the deduction of three points from Nigeria’s fourteen points and awarded them to Algeria over the fielding of an ineligible player, Shehu Abdullahi, in the final leg of the qualification for the tournament which will hold in Russia in 2018. Abdullahi was given a one-match ban which he had not served when he was drafted to play in the second leg of Nigeria’s away tie against Algeria.
FIFA ruled as follows: “The Nigeria Football Federation is liable for having breached Article.55 paragraph.1 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code and article 8 of the 2018 Regulations of the FIFA World Cup Russia.
“The match played within the frame of the preliminary competition of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia between Algeria and Nigeria on 10 November 2017 is declared to be lost by forfeit by Nigeria (3-0).” Nigeria was also fined 6,000 Swiss Francs or N2.2 million. Luckily and happily, the deduction did not affect Super Eagles’ standing at the top of the log as Nigeria had already qualified for the tournament before the Algeria match.
2017 CAF Award shortlists
Despite Victor Moses not making the cut in the African Player of the Year category, the country still remained in the spotlight. Gernot Rohr was nominated in the Coach of the Year category while his Super Eagles will also do battle for the Team of the Year. In the women’s category, Asisat Oshoala look good to make it a hat-trick of wins as her heroics for her Chinese side, Dalian Quanjian earned a nomination alongside the Nigeria U20 women side.