Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Nigerian soccer in 2020

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2020 was a year of lows for Nigerian soccer, although the beautiful game was affected around the world by the coronavirus outbreak.

It was a year that forced football to take a back seat with leagues taking a forced break for almost three months, while international competitions like the Euro and the America’s Cup were traded for a year.

2020 was a year in which the usual became unusual. Pre-match handshakes were canceled, soccer stadiums went silent like graveyards as matches were played behind closed doors. While the pandemic shut down almost all sectors around the world, soccer resumed again in May. Still, there weren’t too many positives to Nigerian football.

The Super Eagles played four games this year but failed to win any, including the African Cup of Nations qualifiers against Sierra Leone.

Following the resumption of football, Nigeria played two international friendly matches against Algeria and Tunisia respectively. It was also Gernot Rohr’s first game since signing a new two-year extension as coach of the national team.

The renewal was not without drama, but eventually, the Nigerian Football Federation decided to extend the German’s contract for another two years. However, for Rohr and his boys, their first match in nearly a year ended in disappointment, losing 1-0 to the reigning African champions.

Although they managed a 1-1 draw in their second match against Tunisia, it was still an average performance from the three-time African champions.

While their performances against the two North African nations could still be excused given it was a friendly, the Super Eagles’ display against Sierra Leone in the AFCON doubleheader qualifier took the country’s soccer to a new level.

The three-time African champions failed to beat the West African minnows in consecutive Group L AFCON playoffs. Nigeria blew a four-goal lead in the first leg at Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin, before playing a 0-0 draw in Freetown.

The result rounded off a truly disappointing year for the senior team, and the entire squad was deservedly harsh criticism after the two games.

Aside from the Super Eagles, the youth teams also failed to meet expectations as the Nigerian U-20 team failed to qualify for the Africa U-20 championship.

The Flying Eagles failed to win either of their two games in the WAFU-B tournament, which served as qualification for next year’s Africa Under-20 championship.

The return of Ladan Bosso attracted much criticism, a man who had once been given that responsibility but who failed in the past.

The question remains why Bosso again? When are there so many former internationals now trained and better equipped coaches looking for ways to help the country’s soccer? Why does the NFF keep recycling coaches instead of trying new hands that may have new ideas?

Although they knew their fate last year, both the men’s and women’s soccer teams did not qualify for the soccer event of the now-postponed 2020 Olympics.

The Nigerian Professional Soccer League (NPFL) also had a nine-month hiatus, although the new season began on December 27.

Last season saw the league come to an abrupt end due to the coronavirus pandemic. League places were determined on a points per game (PPG) basis. However, after the decision was made, the players were inactive for the next nine months before the new season began last Sunday.

However, the new campaign has started on a good note, with some of the games televised on national television and the new NPFL.TV.

Nonetheless, it was a disappointing year overall for Nigerian football, but hopefully 2021 will bring a lot of positives.

Basketball

Nigeria’s biggest breakthrough in sports was in basketball, where the men’s and women’s basketball teams qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. The first African country to achieve that feat.

Other than that eight Nigerian-born basketball players were selected in the 2020 NBA Draft.

The NBA Draft is a process by which elite players from the American university system are selected by teams that play in the National Basketball Association for a chance to earn a living in the NBA League.

It has never happened before in NBA draft history where a single African country produced such a large amount of draft. – usually two or three and mostly from Nigeria, Senegal and lately Cameroon.

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