As 2015 winds down Completesportsnigeria.com’s JOHNNY EDWARD takes a look at some of the best football moments that brought joy, celebrations and indeed mixed feelings in Nigeria in the outgoing year, in the first of our 2015 REVIEW series. He selects seven great and not-so-great events among the several football moments that shaped Nigerian football in 2015, including Saturday’s U-23 Eagles’ triumph at the Africa U-23 Cup of Nations…
1. Golden Eaglets successfully defending their world title in Chile
The national U-17 team, the Golden Eaglets, made history in Chile when they successfully defended their 2013 title won in UAE, matching Brazil’s feat as the two teams to have won the competition back-to back.While Brazil were winners of the competition in 1997 and 1999, the Golden Eaglets are champions of the competition in the last two editions.
Incidentally, current coach Emmanuel Amuneke who assisted coach Manu Garba for Nigeria’s fourth World Cup title in 2013, now has two medals to his name at this level.
And for the second tournament running, the Golden Eaglets produced the best player of the tournament, with Kelechi Nwakali succeeding Manchester City’s teen star Kelechi Iheanacho. The team also made history by producing the second best player in Victor Osimhen who won the Golden Boot award after scoring ten goals to set a tournament record for most goals scored by a player in a single tournament.
It was also the first time Nigeria would win the U-17 world title outside Asia, having previously won in China, Japan, Korea and the UAE.
2. Sunday Oliseh and Vincent Enyeama face-off in Belgium
The arrival of former national skipper Sunday Oliseh as head coach of the Super Eagles brought a lot of controversies and doubts about his ability to lead the team back to winning ways, especially given his inexperience.
With Oliseh preparing for his first competitive game against Tanzania in Dar-Es-Salaam, skipper of the team Vincent Enyeama was unavailable following the death of his mother and after the burial of his deceased parent he had an altercation with his coach, allegedly questioning the rationale behind Oliseh sticking with Ahmed Musa as Eagles’ captain despite Enyeama’s return and that of more senior players like Mikel Obi in the squad.
The spat escalated quickly and dominated discussions for days, eventually leading to Enyeama’s premature retirement from the Super Eagles.
With Nigerians still coming to terms with Enyeama’s retirement from international football via Instagram, Fenerbache loanee, Emmanuel Emenike, also quit, citing irreconcilable differences with Oliseh..
3. Akwa United’s Federation Cup triumph
Akwa United made history winning in this year’s Federation Cup after they ended a 56-year jinx by beating 2003 winners Lobi Stars 2-1 to lift their first-ever national cup.
They joined clubs like Calabar Rovers, Kaduna United, Lagos PAN Bank, Lagos UAC, Ocean Boys FC 1, Police, Wikki Tourists to have won the FA Cup in their first ever appearance in the final of the competition.
With this feat they will fly Nigeria’s flag in next year’s CAF Confederation Cup on account of this historic Cup triumph.
4. Odion Ighalo’sWatford scoring feat
2015 has been a fruitful year for Nigeria and Watford star, Odion Ighalo in term of goal-scoring records.
The 26-year-old forward is the highest scorer in all four professional divisions in England with 26 goals in the calendar year. He ranks above second placed Harry Kane with 24 goals and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero.
Ighao is also favourite for Complete Sports Player of the Year after being voted player of the month four times in 2015.
He has so far scored ten goals in the English Premier League this season, the first player in Watford history to reach double figures in the Premier League.
5. Enyimba winning the Glo League title a record seventh time
Enyimba made history in the Nigeria Professional Football League when they lifted the Glo Premier League title for the seventh time, the most by any Nigerian club.
The People’s Elephant, two-time CAF Champions League winners, were Nigerian champions in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2015.
For their efforts, they were rewarded with the sum of N30million for winning the title.
They will compete in CAF Champions League alongside second-placed Warri Wolves next season.
6. Kano Pillars losing their long unbeaten streak
Dethroned Nigeria Professional Football League champions Kano Pillars saw their 12-year, 202-match unbeaten home record at the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano ended by Nasarawa United Football Club of Lafia in a week 25 match of the NPFL in the just concluded season.
Interestingly, the last time Kano Pillars had lost in front of their home fans was in a 2-1 loss against Julius Berger FC in 2003.
Former Pillars striker, Mannir Ubale, scored the opening goal for the visitors in the 12th minute with a solo effort. Bature Yaro doubled the lead for the Lafia-based team in the 16th minute to shock the defending champions. But Pillars’ captain, Rabiu Ali, scored their consolatory goal.
7. Nigeria winning the CAF U-23 Africa Cup of Nations in Senegal
Having failed to qualify for the London 2012 Olympics through the inaugural edition of the Africa U-23 Cup of Nations in Morocco in 2011, the Nigeria U-23s led by coach Samson Siasia overcame all the odds to win the tournament in December 2015.
After starting with a shaky win against Mali and a nervy draw with Egypt, both games in which they led but hung on in the end, the U-23 Eagles got the draw thry needed against Algeria to qualify for the semi-finals.
Victory in the semi-finals would guarantee passage into the Olympics but few gave Nigeria a chance against hosts Senegal.
But the Nigerians dug deep and held off the favourites to win 1-0 to qualify for the final and bag that Olympic ticket.
With the 2016 Olympic Games ticket already secured with a 1-0 win over hosts Senegal in the semi-final, Siasia became the first coach to qualify the team twice for the Olympics. He did it first in 2007 at the expense of arch rivals Ghana.
The U-23 Eagles scored eight goals in the championship with five from the impressive Oghenekaro Etebo [four from the penalty spot].