Following the Super Eagles’ ouster from Qatar 2022 World Cup, former international, Friday Ekpo, has declared that it is time the nation’s football administrators shift focus away from players of Nigerian descent by also developing and nurturing domestic league players good enough to play for the Super Eagles.
Nigeria last Tuesday lost the World Cup ticket to Ghana by the away goal rule. The two-legged encounter, played at the Kumasi Stadium, Ghana, and the Moshood Abiola Stadium, Abuja respectively, ended 1-1 on aggregate, leaving millions of soccer-loving Nigerians frustrated.
Speaking to newsmen during the week, Ekpo said he was yet to come to terms with the reality that the Eagles will not be at the World Cup in Qatar, this year.
“I am still in shock that Nigeria will not be at the World Cup. Though the boys did all they could, unfortunately their efforts were not enough for us to scale the hurdle.
“In the match, it appeared the Ghanaians even knew us more than we knew ourselves. How can you explain that a team that could not beat us in Ghana will now come and stop us from scoring the needed goals to book qualification. This is so sad.
“What is even more painful about the whole thing was that everyone had predicted the Eagles were going to the World Cup after we played a goalless draw in the first leg at the Kumasi Stadium in Ghana,” he said.
The former Eagles’ midfield maestro then added that it was high time the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) looked inward and got players with potentials in the Nigeria Professional League (NPFL) who could be nurtured as bedrock of the Eagles rather than depending totally on foreign-based players.
“To even start with, how many of our foreign-based players are actually playing frequently in their clubs in Europe? There are very few of them. Yet, we bring them to play for us. This is why I keep saying we need to always invite players who are in form, and play week in, week out for their clubs in Europe. Many of those we bring here to play for us are benchwarmers. That is why we also need to look inward for the best NPFL players whether the league is in session or not, to serve as bedrock for Eagles.
Stamping Rivers’ Foot On Nigerian Sports Map
Since creation on the 27th of May, 1967, Rivers State has earned its stripes as one of the frontline states in Nigeria. Apart from being a major player in the economic and social wellbeing of the country, courtesy of her endowed material resources, it is also a major player in the sports sector, producing talents and providing facilities in variety of sports. In fact, Rivers, both in her old make-up with current day Bayelsa state and present configuration, has been a destination of choice for athletes, sports promoters and sports events.
As the state marks her 55th anniversary, it is only befitting that some lights be thrown at the strides, potentials, contributions and key achievements in its annals and ways to etch them in the sports map of the nation.
Interestingly, the foundation for a robust sports culture was laid very early in the life of the state, courtesy of a visionary young administrator, Navy Captain Alfred Diete-Spiff, who was the first administrator. He, from the outset viewed sports as a catalyst to the empowerment and engagement of the youth of the state. Through the provision of world class sports facilities, from the iconic Civic Centre, now christened Alfred Diete-Spiff Sports Complex, the imposing Elekahia Stadium, whose master plan provided an all-in-one Olympic-size facilities, to the now pulled down Olympia hotel and Sea School, Isaka, which later became Sports Institute, young people were provided the platform to explore and express their talents. This saw the state being launched into the frontline as one of the states with impressive credentials in sports development, promotion and weaning of athletes.
To the advantage of the state, successive administrations have kept with the vision of the founding fathers, especially, in the sports sector. No wonder the state could boast of a plethora of athletes to have flown the flags of the state and country and brought home glories. In the years of yore, there were athletes like Adokiye Amiesimaka(football), Imama Amapakabo(football), Joseph Yobo(football),Ethel Jack(Table Tennis), Joshua Kio(Tripple Jump), Tamunoemi Gibson(Badminton), Ojadi Oduche(Weightlifting),Oliver Toby(Weightlifting), Benjamin Minimah(Weightlifting), Obia Inyengiyikabo(Swimming), Eric Williams(Swimming), Tammy Atorudibo(Athletics), Otonye Iworima(Long and Triple Jump), Taribo West(Football), among others, who have at various times brought honour and glory, not only to Rivers but Nigeria as a whole.
It is on record that the state remains one of the few ones to have hosted the national mini Olympic games, the National Sports Festival, NSF, more than once, in 1988 and 2011. Till date, the 2011 edition is still being regarded as the finest in terms of organisation, welfare, logistics and facilities that were deployed. It was a display of art and organizational savvy that wowed every observer and the state put the icing on the cake by emerging winner of the festival, relegating serial winner, Delta state to second place.
Prior to that, the state had been putting its facilities at the disposal of the country, coming to the rescue of several national teams when the going got tough. Under Sir peter Odili as governor, the state by deploying facilities and resources helped the Super Eagles qualify for the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup. Other sports like swimming, wrestling, badminton, athletics, cycling, polo, basketball, volleyball and golf have also found the state a fertile ground and willing partner in promoting and developing their sports.
There exist multiple sports facilities in the state that makes it ready made to host top notch national and international sports competitions. Building on the infrastructural development began by the first administrator of the State, successive administrations have tried to add to what is on ground. The imposing Adokiye Amiesimaka Sports Complex at the Omagwa/Igwuruta area of the state is one of the legacies of Rotimi Amaechi’s administration. Also, the facilities for tennis, basketball, volleyball and other indoor sports constructed within the old Port Harcourt Township area speak volumes on the premium the state places on sports. The current administration has equally made huge statements concerning its commitment to providing the youth of the state and beyond, the wherewithal to develop themselves and be equipped for quality and purposeful living.
The excellent Real Madrid Football Academy built by the Nyesom Wike administration, the renovated and modernized Alfred Diete-Spiff Sports Complex are some of the infrastructure invested on by the government to ensure that the youths are imparted with world class knowledge and experience to place them among the best in the world. In fact, the football academy is modeled and designed to operate just as its parent facility owned by the world famous Real Madrid Football Club in Spain.
Rivers state has also not relented in sponsoring sports teams which have not only helped to keep so many youths off the streets by engaging them, the teams have at various times wrote the name of the state in gold. Before now, a lot of football teams existed in the state and provided talents aplenty to the national teams, ranging from the youth teams o the senior national football team, the Super Eagles. To her credit, the state boasts top class football teams, Rivers Angels Fc and Rivers United Fc, owned and sponsored by the state.
For the Angels, the club have become serial winners of domestic titles, winning both the league and cup titles on several occasions to the extent that they have become dominant in the country. It has consistently finished every season in the top bracket of the league table to become ever present at the season-ending top six or top four play-off competition. Only last year, the Angels, after emerging Nigerian champion, became the first club in the country to qualify and participate in the first ever CAF women’s Champions League. It is a feat that has the state listed in the annals of history in Africa.
Rivers United Fc, which rose from the ashes of Sharks and Dolphins Fcs have also continued from where its predecessors stopped. The team has taken the domestic scene by storm through the motivation and support from government. For a couple of years now, the team have been flying Nigeria’s flag in CAF’s club competitions, almost as a constant in the county’s football arena. At the moment, United is the favourite to clinch the Nigeria Professinal Football League, NPFL title, having led the log comfortably for most of the season. Their performance can be said to be a testimony to the support government has thrown its way and expectation is that they would bring their maiden league title as Rivers United and the state’s fourth, home at the end of the season.
The state’s domination and impact extend beyond football. Rivers Hoopers Basketball team is also on the trail of glory, largely due to the support they enjoy from the state. The team have had some remarkable run in the game, winning a regional basketball competition in Cotonou in 2018, President’s Cup in Nigeria in 2019 and recently emerged champions of the Ministry of Sports backed Final Eight competition in Abuja. They have also flown the country’s flag at the FIBA Africa Basketball League.
The state equally plays major roles in athletics, hosting several national and state events, from school sports to mini and full marathon races. Cycling is also a strong forte of the state. It has for long been one of the few bastions of the sport in the country, showing her prowess at successive National Sports Festivals and championships.
Indeed, Rivers in her 55 years of statehood has shown itself an entity to reckon with as far as the sports sector is concerned. The history of the sector in Nigeria cannot be complete without the state occupying prominent pages in the books of record. Among other firsts the fact that the current state governor, Nyesom Wike, owing to his pragmatism and commitment in the sector was awarded the title of Power of Sports-Africa, POS-Africa by the highest sports journalism body in the world, Association of International Sports Journalists, AIPS. The Governor, thus becomes the second individual and first governor in Africa to be so honoured.
Also, the state is the first in the whole of South South and South East to produce a President of sports writing body, the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, SWAN, when the current two-term serving President, Sir Honour Sirawoo emerged over five years ago.
That the state has earned the right and place of history is not in doubt or subject of controversy, but ensuring that the position is maintained or improved upon is a task that must be taken seriously by all stakeholders in the state. Over time, the former Commissioner for Sports, Hon Boma Iyaye had been saying that grassroots sports development and youth empowerment are among the cardinal policies of the current administration. Certainly, these policies and deliberate effort to fund, motivate and invest in athletes and all sports would keep the state strongly etched on the national sports map.
In addition, providing facilities for the different games should not be seen as an end in itself but strict maintenance culture must be established and sustained. It is also noteworthy that institutions established at any point should be made viable with structures to stand the test of time.
It is expected that all authorities vested with the responsibility to manage the sector be given a clear mandate, targets and effectively evaluated from time to time. This is because the state, knowing that sports has evolved and has gone from mere recreation to money spinning business stands to reap immense benefit by ensuring that it is kept on the front burner at all seasons.
Considering the human and material resources that abound in the state, ensuring that the sports sector is on the right track and affording the young people opportunities to exploit their talents are sure ways to keep the state within the top echelon of sports communities in Nigeria and beyond.
By: Gabriel Nwanetanya
Good Character Of My Players Gave Us Victory – Eguma
The Technical Manager of Rivers United FC of Port Harcourt, Stanley Eguma, has attributed his 1-0 victory against Remo Stars to the character of his players.
He stated that the character displayed in the field of play gave them edge over their opponents, saying that the game was one of the difficult matches he had played because to penetrate the defence of Remo Stars was a big task.
Eguma made said this on Sunday in his post match interview with sports journalists shortly after the Pride of Rivers pip Remo Stars FC 1-0 in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) match day 29 at the Adokiye Amiesimaka stadium in Port Harcourt.
He explained that the visitors employed a very difficult tactics to penetrate they defence, hence he noticed that he brought in players that can commit in their 18 yard box and that is how they were able to get the free kick that brought the goal.
The only goal of the encourter was scored in the 76th minute by Kazie Enyinnaya, which has helped the pride of Rivers to lead the NPFL table with seven points.
“ Right from the beginning of the game our opponents keep defending.
They employed a very difficult tactics.
The game was hard and tough.
It was very difficult to penetrate their defence so we have to change tacties to open their defence.
It was a great game for us, but today my players showed character and we won,” Eguma said.
Also speaking the head coach of Remo Stars FC Gbenga Ogunbote, said the memory is taking home is that he lost a game he would have ordinarily won.
However, he hailed the pride of Rivers for been at their best to take the three maximum points.
“The game has come and gone we just have to take the positive out of it.
My take home memory is losing a game that I supposed to have won.
Rivers United were just thirsty to score and they were lucky to have gotten one,” Ogunbote said.
By: Kiadum Edookor
AWC: Nigeria Claims Three Medals In Morocco
Team Nigeria capped an impressive outing at the 2022 African Wrestling Championships in El Jadida, Morocco, claiming a silver and two bronze medals in the Freestyle (FS) events on the final day of the tournament. It means all 11 wrestlers paraded by the country at the Championships each won a medal.
Wrestling in the 57kg FS, Commonwealth silver-medallist Ebikewenimo Welson won silver, while African champions Ogbonna John (74kg) and Ekerekeme Agiomor (86kg) both settled for bronze medals.
After securing quarter and semi-final wins against Congo DR’s Rabby Kilandi (12-1 via fall) and Diamantino Iuna Fafe of Guinea-Bissau (2-1), Welson lost 5-0 to Gamal Mohamed of Egypt in the final.
On his part, John, who had won four straight African titles hitherto failed to make it five in a row, after he was stopped in the semi-finals by Egyptian Amr Hussen via a fall victory. He however won bronze by overcoming Brian Oloo of Kenya 10-0 via superiority in the 74kg class.
Similarly, Tokyo 2020 Olympian Agiomor (86kg) also claimed bronze after beating Tunisian Sabri Mnasria 9-0.
After receiving a bye in the qualification round, the 2018 African champion defeated Guma Bashir of Sudan 10-0 via pinfall in the quarter-finals before narrowly going down 3-2 to Egyptian Mahmoud Badawi in the last 4.
On the penultimate day of the competition, Team Nigeria claimed 4 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze medals in the Women Wrestling events.
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