D’Tigers In Tokyo Olympics: From Participants To Contenders
D’Tigers beat the well respected Team USA 90-87 at the weekend and within hours the Nigerians had their names virtually in every publication across the world. They became an instant hit on Twitter at a time Nigerians were usually asleep and resting for Sunday church service.
It had to be so because no African team had ever beaten the USA or had even ever truly tried to. The mindset was always to try to keep the margin of defeat low. Across the world one can count easily how many teams have ever beaten the men’s or women’s team of the USA. It had to be a big deal then for D’Tigers.
The result of the game between Nigeria and the USA at London 2012 Olympics explains a lot. USA defeated Nigeria 156-73. The change and progress did not come just in 2021; it has been a long dream and serious work to get to this level.
Back in the early 1990s Nigeria mounted a vigorous fight to change the AfroBasket competition schedule from December to the summer period when the high number of Nigerian players could be free from collegiate games and clubs to play for D’Tigers. In December 1995 they managed to assemble a few of the USA-based players and finished at the third position in Algeria.
They fought harder and got the change. When the change came with Senegal ’97, Nigeria assembled quite an impressive line up. The team was celebrated and the Nigerian contingent arrived in Dakar in a chartered Nigeria Airways Boeing 737 flight with a retinue of supporters. Nigeria lost only one game and which was the final match to hosts Senegal.
The Senegalese had been beaten by the Nigerians at the group stage and came into the final with all manner of tricks and physical threats. They had their way but Nigeria as runners up qualified for its first World Cup in Greece.
The preparation to Athens in 1998 was even more elaborate with the team arriving there in a chartered Nigeria Airways DC 10 flight.
Coach Ayo Bakare had the mandate to get the best of Nigerian players anywhere in the world. He was able to add to the team Yinka Dare (late) a former NBA player with New Jersey Nets and Obinna Ekezie (WakaNow CEO) from Maryland University. Julius Nwosu.
A former NBA player had featured already in Dakar. Nigeria won only one game in Greece against South Korea but the foundation for what is happening with D’Tigers and D’Tigress had been laid firmly.
The Nigeria Basketball Federation and friends of the team agreed that within a decade the country could enter the top 20 bracket if the NBBF could gather just a quarter of Nigerian stars scattered across the globe. This is how the NBBF got to getting this squad available to the country on the road to the Tokyo Olympics.
D’Tigers squad of 1995-2001 is like what the 1994-1998 squad means in football to Nigeria. The collection of D’Tigers in that period has produced big achievers in the game across the globe today. Masai Ujiri is the President of the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors won their first NBA title under Masai in 2019. He played in Senegal ‘97. Ugo Udezue is the CEO of AFA Sports and his company is the kit partner of the Nigerian contingent to the Tokyo Olympics.
It is the first time an African apparel manufacturer would kit a nation at the Olympics. Ekezie is the chairman of an insurance company in Nigeria, runs the OBN Academy and the founder of Wakanow.com travel agency. Ime Udoka was a former captain of the team and now the coach of Celtics in the NBA.
The current NBBF president Musa Kida was a member of the board at the upsurge period of 1997/98. He has followed the dreams and plans to the letter. What the country needed was good management of the teams to attract the best players especially those who were not born and have not lived here as adults.
Iheanacho Disappointed Over Leicester Relegation
Kelechi Iheanacho has said he is disappointed after Leicester City failed to survive the drop to the Championship.
Going into the ultimate day of the league, Southampton were already relegated, leaving Leeds United, Leicester and Everton the remaining teams to battle it out for survival.
Though the Foxes claimed a 2-1 win over West Ham United in the final game of the 2022/23 season, it was not enough to keep them in the topflight as fellow strugglers Everton also managed a 1-0 win over Bournemouth, a vital victory enough to keep the Toffees in the Premier League ahead of the Foxes.
Reacting to their drop, Ihenacho said it was a hard one to take but expressed conviction they will get back up.
“I don’t even know how I feel right now. I’m so disappointed. I don’t know what to say. I just need to thank the football club, the fans, everyone who has supported us from the start to now.” he told LCFC “I know it’s a hard one to take but if life kicks you, you just need to stand up and keep going. Whatever it is, we just keep going, stay strong, and hopefully we get back up.
“Nobody’s really happy at this time. It’s a bad time for the club and everyone. We need to take it on the chin and move on. It’s really not what we want but we can’t go back now. We have to move forward.”
Iheanacho also noted the unflagging support of the fans, recalling how they stood by them even at the end when all hopes were bleak.
He said: “The fans were really amazing, even at the end, they were clapping us and showing us support.
Super Eagles Lack Fighting Spirit-Aghahowa
Former Super Eagles goal king, Julius Aghahowa, has said that the return of the fighting spirit to the Super Eagles’ attack is imperative if the senior national male football team must return to winning ways.
Speaking with news men in Lagos, at the unveiling of the 12 teams for the maiden Naija Super Eight, Aghahowa stated that the team as presently constituted lacked the fighting spirit that it was known for in the 1990s and 2000s.
“The Super Eagles of today have great players, but something is missing. That fighting spirit in the attack is no longer there, and there is an urgent need for the team to have it back again to return to winning ways,” he said.
Asked if Coach Jose Peseiro has what it takes to return the team to its glory days Aghahowa said: That question should be directed to the Nigeria Football Federation. But for me, I think the Super Eagles need a coach, who will be on the ground in Nigeria. Move around league venues to scout for talented players, who are hungry to win, and who will sharpen the team’s attack.”
Other former internationals at the occasion were Ike Shorunmi, Tijani Babangida, Jonathan Akpoborie, Victor Ezeji, and Mutiu Adepoju.
National Honour Delights Osimhen
Napoli and Super Eagles striker, Victor Osimhen, has expressed delight at the national honour conferred on him at the weekend by the government of former President Muhammadu Buhari.
Buhari approved the conferment of the 2023 special national awards on 340 Nigerians and friends of the country in various categories.
Osimhen, who was one of the recipients of the Member of the Federal Republic (MFR) honour thanked the government and Nigerians in general for identifying with his successes.
“Today, I feel so blessed and grateful as I announce that I have been awarded the prestigious Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR) award by the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” Osimhen wrote in a lengthy post on his Twitter Page.
Incidentally, the National honour conferred on Osimhen coincided with his 100th appearance for Napoli and the 24-year-old also marked the auspicious moment with two goals for the already-crowned Serie A champions.
Osimhen, with 25 league goals, is on course to be crowned the Serie A top scorer this season; a feat never achieved by an African player.
“Today also marked my 100th game for Napoli and I was fortunate to score 2 goals for my club, it is an amazing moment and feeling for me to be able to achieve this feat for this great club,” Osimhen continued.
He added: “This MFR recognition also means a lot to me, as it symbolizes the appreciation and support of the great Nigerian people for the dedication and hard work they have always put into their careers to make Nigeria Proud.
“My deepest gratitude goes to the Federal Republic of Nigeria for recognising me at such a national level, and I am so humbled and grateful. I am proud to be a Nigerian and represent Her.
“I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development for their continuous efforts in promoting and developing sports in our country. Their support has contributed to the growth of myself and every other athlete in the country.”
Osimhen also reserved special praise for his family members whom he described as a pillar of support for his career while also thanking his fans for believing in him and propelling him to great heights.
“To my amazing family, who have been my rock and source of inspiration throughout my journey, I am forever indebted to your love and support. I love you all and this award is as much yours as it is mine.
“And to my fans and supporters, both in Nigeria and around the world, you all are super amazing and I am so grateful for all you do for me. Your constant support, well wishes and cheers have uplifted me in moments of triumph and provided solace during challenging times.
“I am immensely honoured to achieve this feat for Napoli and I’m also honoured to receive this MFR award, and I consider it a responsibility to continue striving for excellence, more records and making meaningful contributions to people’s lives with the sport I love.
Thank you, everyone” he concluded.
Apart from Osimhen, a couple of other individuals that are in the sports circles also received various national awards.
They include the immediate past president of the Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick, conferred with the Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic, OFR.
Football legend, Austin Okocha, was conferred with the honour of Officer of the Order of Niger (OON) while basketballer Ejike Ugboaja like Osimhen was also conferred with the Member of the Federal Republic (MFR).
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