Friday, 1st December 2023

Events that shaped Nigeria sports in 2022

By Gowon Akpodonor
28 December 2022   |   5:22 am
Athletics in Nigeria recorded its best moment in 2022. From the country’s participation at the World Championship in Oregon, USA, to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, it was an unforgettable year for the country.

Amusan (left) and Brume will lead Nigeria’s quest for medals at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, which begins…today

No doubt, the year 2022 will remain unforgettable for many sports-loving Nigerians for different reasons. In this report, GOWON AKPODONOR looks at how the country fared in some of its sporting engagement.

Athletics in Nigeria recorded its best moment in 2022. From the country’s participation at the World Championship in Oregon, USA, to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, it was an unforgettable year for the country.

Top on the list of athletes who made Nigeria the talking point were Tobiloba Amusan and Ese Brume. Amusan, who was named Africa’s Best Female Athlete of the Year 2022 by the Confederation of African Athletics (CAA), last week, towered above her contemporaries this year.

Just when Nigeria’s hope for a medal was fading at the World Championships in Oregon, Amusan produced one of the biggest surprises of the championship, by speeding to a world record 12.12 seconds in the semifinals of the 100m hurdles, following it with a wind-assisted 12.06 seconds in the final to win gold.

A few weeks later, Amusan won gold for Team Nigeria at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, where she also set a record. She took a step further by winning the Diamond League trophy for the second successive season, which made her one of the best in the world and Africa’s undisputed number one in track and field in 2022.

Amusan, a former footballer from Ogun State, will be proud of her unprecedented feat in 2022 despite failing to claim the global accolade of World Female Athlete of the Year, which was won by America’s Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone.

Amusan started 2022 with a successful defence of her African Championships title in Mauritius in early June. Thereafter, she was in Paris, where she improved on her 12.42 seconds African record as she ran 12.41 seconds at the Diamond League meeting in Paris.

In Benin City, Edo State, at the 2022 All Nigerian Championships, Amusan effortlessly erased the 12.63 seconds record set in 1997 by Angela Ateda as she won another national title for herself, having run an impressive 12.58 seconds.

Long jumper, Ese Brume, also took Nigeria’s athletics to a new level in 2022. The Delta State-born Brume proved again why she remains the most consistent medal-winning Nigerian athlete in the past few years.

Brume was Nigeria’s only medallist at the World Indoor Championship in Belgrade, where she leapt to a Season Best (SB) of 6.85m to win the silver medal. Doing this, she became Nigeria’s first World Indoor medallist in 14 years since Olusoji Fasuba last won the 60m title in 2008.

At the World Outdoor Championships in Oregon, USA, Brume grabbed a ‘golden’ Silver medal with a brilliant Season Best of 7.02m in the final. In the process, Brume made history as the first African (male or female) to win two long jump medals at the World Championships, in addition to her bronze medal from Doha 2019.

She is also the second Nigerian and African woman after Blessing Okagbare to make the long jump podium at the World Championship. Brume capped off her exceptional season at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, as her sixth jump (7.00m) broke the previous Games Record (GR) of 6.99m and in the process regaining her Commonwealth title from 2014.

This year, Brume became the first African woman to jump four legal marks over 7.00m. She hit the 7m twice, jumping 7.02m to finish second in Oregon and her victorious GR mark in Birmingham.

WHILE athletics brought joy to Nigerians in 2022, it was not so for football, as it appeared a case of one step forward and two steps backward. From Super Eagles’ worst outing at the 2022 AFCON in Cameroun, where they crashed out in the round of 16, failure to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar, as well as unimpressive outings at regional football tournaments, Nigeria’s football was nothing to write home about this year.

The failure to qualify for Qatar 2022 World Cup was a major talking point on how the nation’s football deteriorated in 2022. After qualifying for the last three editions of the FIFA World Cup in 2010, 2014 and 2018, many football-loving Nigerians were optimistic that the Super Eagles would join the party to Qatar, which hosted the first World Cup in the middle East.

Their level of optimism followed Super Eagles’ promising start in Group C in the second round of the qualifier, where Nigeria was grouped alongside Cape Verde, Liberia and the Central African Republic (CAR).

With only the first-placed team in each group (of 10) eligible to qualify for the final qualifying round, the Super Eagles finished top of the group with 13 points having won 4, drew 1, and lost 1. That was when the team was handled by the German tactician, Gernot Rohr.

Augustine Eguavoen took over as Super Eagles coach, following outcry by some Nigerians that Rohr’s team was not entertaining enough. The 10 group winners were paired to fight for the five spots allocated to Africa at the World Cup, and the Super Eagles were drawn against familiar foes, Black Stars of Ghana in the final qualifying round.

After a 0-0 draw in the first leg in Cape Coast, Ghana, Eguavoen and ‘the gang’ played out a 1-1 draw in Abuja, thereby, losing the World Cup ticket on away goal rule, having failed to score in Cape Coast.

Poorest ever Round of 16 exit in Cameroun
THE last edition of the African Nations Cup (AFCON) held between January 9 and February 6, 2022, in Cameroun. Coach Gernot Rohr qualified the Super Eagles for the tournament by winning four matches and drawing two in their group that had Sierra Leone, Benin Republic and Lesotho.

The ‘People’s Candidate’, Eguavoen, led the Super Eagles to the AFCON in Cameroun and were in Group D, alongside Egypt, Sudan and Guinea Bissau.
Eguavoen began brightly by winning all games in the group stage in Garoua, thereby, increasing the level of optimism of Nigerians back home.
While some quickly raised hope of another AFCON win since Coach Stephen Keshi and his gang conquered the continent at South Africa 2013, others simply tagged the team a champion in waiting.

But the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia ‘cut’ Nigeria’s ticket in the round of 16 after handing 1-0 defeat to the flat-footed Super Eagles, an outing described as worst-ever performance for the nation at the AFCON.

Super Falcons’ sad outing at AWCON
BEFORE the Super Falcons journey to Morocco for the 2022 CAF Women’s Nations Cup (AWCON) between July 2 and 23, Nigeria was the most successful nation in Africa. But the nation’s history and reputation in women football was rubbished in Morocco.

The Super Falcons did not only crash out in the semifinal after losing to host, Morocco, 5-4 on penalties, but also lost their third-place game 1-0 to Zambia to settle for fourth place.

The Super Falcons were the best in Africa’s women football with local coaches, but ‘corruption’ made the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to hire foreign coaches for the team.

And under the tenure of former NFF President, Pinnick Amaju, the once celebrated Super Falcons fell from grace to grass in Morocco, the worst in Nigeria’s history.

The Super Falcons booked the ticket to Morocco 2022 as champions of Africa, and having won 11 out of 14 editions of AWCON. Signs that all was not well with the Super Falcons appeared, when the team finished second in a group that had South Africa, Botswana and Burundi.

The poorest record by the Super Falcons in Morocco notwithstanding, the NFF still has faith in American journeyman, Coach Randy Waldrum, ahead the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. And unless a miracle happens, coach Waldrum will parade same old legs come next year.

High-flying Flamingos In India
PERHAPS, the only good thing that came out from football in 2022 was the exploits of Nigeria’s Women U-17 team, the Flamingos, who won a ‘golden bronze’ for Nigeria in India. Their elder sisters, the Super Falcons, had fumbled in Morocco.

Before their departure for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in India, not much was known of the team led by Coach Fatai Olowookere. But the girls gave a good account of themselves.

At India 2022, the Flamingos were drawn in Group B alongside Germany, Chile and New Zealand. The Nigerians picked six points to finish second in the group.

A quarterfinal clash against USA gave some Nigerians a nightmare, but a determined Flamingos dispatched the Americans 3-4 on penalties to advance to the semifinal, where they eventually lost to Colombia 5-6 on penalties.

In the third-place match against Germany, the Flamingos were down 3-0 but fought back to draw level. They claimed the ‘golden bronze’ by beating the Europeans, Germany, 3-2 on penalties. Flamingos third place finish in India was the first time they moved beyond the quarterfinal stage in FIFA U-17 World Cup.

Best-ever National Sports Festival
ONE of the best moments for Nigerian youths in 2022 was the hosting of the 21st National Sports Festival in Delta State. For a majority of the athletes, their coaches, sports administrators and journalists, Delta 2022 was the best ever in history of the National Sports Festival since it began in 1973.

Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, in his determination to stage a beautiful Games, put in place quality infrastructure including brand new tartan track at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, two brand new indoor sports hall, new swimming pool, new hockey pitch at Okpanam, and new hostel for accommodation at Issele-Uku.

The Games witnessed the shattering of several national records and setting of new ones in track and field. Some African champions were also dethroned in scrabble among other events.

A peep into 2023
WITH Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup already concluded, attention of many soccer lovers across the globe has stated to 2023. It will be a busy year for football across the world and in Nigeria.

The luck of draw has pitched the Super Falcons in Group B alongside co-host Australia, Republic of Ireland and Canada in the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

Also, 2023 will see a resumption of FIFA’s men’s age-grade competition with the U-17 and U-20 World Cups scheduled to hold in Peru and Indonesia respectively.