Few of us will ever forget 2013. It was the year when a generation finally learned what it meant to stand atop a continent and when a nation once again had reason to believe its own hype. It was the year that the Super Eagles found their wings and when West Africa’s powerhouses finally realised their unlimited potential.
The year began with triumph in South Africa and ended with World Cup Qualification in Calabar. The failure to qualify for the Mondial in 2006 was, thankfully, not repeated, and a country stands optimistic that the disastrous campaign four years later will not be revisited in Brazil.
This article looks back over the last 12 months; these are the awards for the best and the worst of Nigerian football. Comment below and let us know your picks for the categories listed.
Defender of the Year
Godfrey Oboabona started all but two of Nigeria’s games during 2013. He was in imperious form during the Cup of Nations, particularly during the quarter-final against the Cote d’Ivoire when he silenced Didier Drogba.
Further impressive performances during the year, not least against Mario Balotelli at a recent international friendly in London, demonstrate that this is a player with the ability and mentality to contend with the elite of the sport.
Due to the relationship between Oboabona and his young centre-back partner Kenneth Omeruo, Joseph Yobo has barely been missed since being overlooked by Stephen Keshi.
Midfielder of the Year
It has been a remarkable year for John Obi Mikel. The Chelsea man was the inspirational figure at the Cup of Nations, driving the team forward with a series of majestic, dominant midfield displays and overturning years of underachievement.
He was Man of the Match in several matches during the competition and also earned himself a spot in the team of the tournament.
Mikel, for his leadership and his terrific passing ability, is also my Nigerian Player of the Year.
Forward of the Year
Emmanuel Emenike and Victor Moses went close for this one and it was difficult to choose just one name.
Moses was in stunning form during the Cup of Nations. He saved the day by winning (and scoring) two late penalties against Ethiopia in the group stage and then delivered one of the great forgotten performances against Mali in the semi-final.
I think, however, this award has to go to Emenike. Over 2013 the Fenerbahce man has come from nowhere to emerge as the Super Eagles’ go-to forward; he top-scored at the Afcon and provided crucial goals against Zambia, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali.
Arguably as important, however, if not more so, was his brace in the World Cup Qualifying play-off first-leg against Ethiopia. Facing a 1-0 defeat, a partisan home crowd and a taxing atmosphere, the Super Eagles needed a hero. Emenike stepped up to the plate, his brace pushing Keshi’s men towards Brazil.
Young Player of the Year
Again, Kenneth Omeruo deserves a mention for his seamless transition to being a senior team regular in almost no time at all.
I am more excited, however, about Ogenyi Onazi. The young defensive midfielder is an assured and mature presence in the heart of the park, providing balance and energy alongside Mikel.
The pair work terrifically together and Onazi’s hard work provides a platform upon which the Chelsea man can flourish.
It is amazing to consider that the Lazio man only turned 21 on Christmas Day. There is surely so much more to come from this nascent footballing star.
Goal of the Year
There were a number of fine finishes and tension-relieving goals during the year, but one stands out above the rest.
Victor Moses’s penalties against Ethiopia, Emmanuel Emenike’s brace against the same opponents, Godfrey Oboabona’s free kick against Namibia and Ahmed Musa’s composed chip against Kenya were all of utmost importance.
However, for aesthetic qualities and for the spectacle, I’m going to give this award to John Obi Mikel for his sinuous movement and Messi-esque finish against Uruguay in the Confederations Cup.
Perhaps this is something he could reproduce for another South American team next summer…!?
Moment of the Year
Sometimes it is the assist, rather than the finish, that is the true masterpiece.
My ‘Moment of the Year’ has to be Victor Moses’s awesome wing-play, complete with Cruyff turn and inch-perfect cross to set up Elderson Echiejile for his stooping header against Mali at the Afcon.
The goal was not only an absolute beauty, it also had significance within the contest (it opened the floodgates and sent Nigeria on their way) and within the tournament (pushing the Super Eagles towards the final.)
Match of the Year
History may well view the Afcon quarter-final against the Cote d’Ivoire as the threshold match for Stephen Keshi’s young Nigerian side.
Having struggled through the group stage, his inexperienced elect finally came to life, usurping the legends within the Ivorian ranks and holding their nerve to see out the contest.
It was the match that transformed Nigeria from first round strugglers to potential champions. Mikel’s dominant display against Yaya Toure in the heart of the midfield and, of course, Sunday Mba’s unexpected winner were particular highlights.
Disappointment of the Year
Unfortunately, too many of the Super Eagles’ key performances during 2013 have been graced by underwhelming performances by the strikers.
Ike Uche was hyped ahead of the Cup of Nations, but he contributed next to nothing, started only twice and was then exiled from the side for the rest of the year.
A whole host of forwards received an opportunity during the Confederations Cup, but almost all of them (Joseph Akpala, Anthony Ujah and Mohammed Gambo) fluffed their lines. Ideye Brown also frustrated regularly while Obafemi Martins failed to convince when given a final chance against Kenya in a World Cup Qualifier.
All this, while the likes of Michael Eneramo, Victor Anichebe, Sone Aluko and Imoh Ezekiel were overlooked.
Follow Ed Dove on Twitter: @Eddydove