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The great, not so great and the tragic: Nigeria sport in 2019

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Nigerian sport has had worse years.

It has most certainly also had better years.

But 2019 provided such a roller-coaster of highs and lows that "breathless" is just about the best way to describe it.

The year had everything so let us start with...

The great...

Football

Quite a few people will disagree, but Nigeria finishing third at the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt was one of the bright spots of 2019. While it did not headline the triumphs of 2019, it stood as some sort of monument to what the country can achieve when proper planning meets exciting young talent.

The Super Eagles' coach, Gernot Rohr, travelled to the Nations Cup with the third-youngest team of the tournament, behind only Tunisia and Mali, and they improved game by game -- minus the blip against Madagascar -- and were one goalkeeping error from making the final.

Bronze may have been disappointing, but there was no shame losing in the semifinals to the eventual champions, Algeria, who went on to defeat a Senegal side that was arguably much stronger than Nigeria in the championship game.

The positives from the campaign include, chiefly, a group of emerging young players who have immediately filled the gap left by the retirement of John Mikel Obi and Odion Ighalo.

Nigeria's women, the Super Falcons, qualified for the World Cup and made the knockout phase for only the second time in their history, albeit only as one of the best losers.

Off the field, a decision from the courts clearing the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) of a multitude of corruption charges brought a welcome breath of fresh air to the nation's football administration.

Basketball

Hoops was where Nigeria made great strides in 2019.

The men's team qualified for the FIBA World Cup, and they travelled to China with expectations of at least a top eight finish; back to back close losses to Russia and Argentina immediately ended all such hopes, but D'Tigers bounced back with a blowout win against South Korea and followed up with victories against Cote D'Ivoire and China to book their spot at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

If the men made heavy weather of punching their Olympic ticket, the women qualified with ease, coasting through to a successful defense of the AfroBasket title with a perfect record.

D'Tigress followed that with a gold medal at the African Games in Morocco, where the men could only finish in bronze medal place. They also became the first African team to reach the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals in tournament history.

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MMA

Prior to 2019, none but the most ardent MMA fans followed the sport in Nigeria; fewer still knew there were any Nigerians competing.

Two world champions later, and all of that feels like some distant past.

Kamaru Usman opened the doors in March, when he won his 14th consecutive fight to claim the UFC welterweight belt from Tyron Woodley via unanimous decision at UFC 235.

Nine months later he defended the title, claiming a fifth-round TKO over Colby Covington to cement his place as one of the best pound for pound fighters in the UFC.

Cheering from the stands as Usman claimed a first MMA world title for Nigeria was Israel Adesanya, then just one of the most promising prospects in the UFC.

Fresh off victory against UFC legend Anderson Silva, 'The Stylebender' followed in Usman's footsteps by defeating Kelvin Gastelum to claim the UFC interim middleweight championship in April; Adesanya then made it official in October, when he made light work of Robert Whittaker to claim the middleweight championship via a second round KO.

Wrestling

Unheralded wrestling -- led by Olympian Daniel Igali -- also provided plenty of cheer for Nigeria in 2019.

Nigerian women were overall African champions for the seventh time in a row, and both men's and women's teams emerged best at the African Games in Morocco -- including in Greco Roman wrestling with seven gold medals.

That performance carried over into the world championships in Kazakhstan, where Odunayo Adekuruoye qualified for the 2020 Olympics by winning a historic bronze in the 57kg category.

She also won the 2019 German Grand Prix Championship in Dormagen, and was named the best wrestler at the African Wrestling Championship in Tunisia.

In July, she defeated Tetyana Kit of Ukraine 10-0 in the final to win gold in the 57 kg category at Yasar Dogu Ranking series event in Istanbul, Turkey.

Adekuoroye and Blessing Oborodudu are currently ranked No. 2 and No. 4 in the world, respectively.

While we are at it, the removal of former Sports Minister Solomon Dalung counted as a high amongst Nigerian sports followers. His record tenure was marked by scandal, crisis in sporting federations including football, rugby, athletics, basketball, gymnastics , and more

The Not So Great ...

Football

The bigger they come, the bigger they fall. There is none so big in Nigeria as football, and some of the sport's failures of 2019 were particularly spectacular.

The domestic league failed to start for nearly the entire year, leading to a domino effect with Nigerian clubs flaming out of CAF competitions. Only Enyimba and Rangers are left, the former having dropped from the CAF Champions League to join the latter in the Confederation Cup.

That fallout carried on to the national level, where the home-based Super Eagles were embarrassed by Togo and then Cape Verde at the WAFU Cup of Nations and then failed to qualify for the African Nations Championship -- losing over two legs to Togo in qualifying.

At national level, nearly all of the cadet teams failed to qualify for any major tournament. The under 23s, Olympic bronze medal winners at the 2016 Games in Brazil, failed to qualify for Tokyo.

The story continued with the under-17 boys and the under-20s.

Barring the Super Eagles' Afcon bronze, it was a largely nightmarish year for Nigerian football.

To round up the most abysmal year for Nigerian football, the Beach Soccer team was beaten so roundly at the World Cup that the NFF Congress decided to suspend participation in the sport.

Athletics

One of the country's Big Three sports, athletics proved to be a major disappointment in 2019.

Mired in crisis involving two different factions, and reeling from the scandal of the missing $US135,000 paid by the IAAF, the sport posted a woeful performances in 2019; Ese Brume's long jump bronze was the only medal that Nigeria claimed at the World Athletic Championships in Qatar.

Basketball

Despite the wins at international level, the inability of the domestic Premier League to resume in 2019 was a major black mark on the basketball leadership.

The tragic...

The year had barely opened when news of the death of Taiwo Ogunjobi, former Nigeria international and former NFF general secretary hit the football fraternity. He passed at the age of 65

Ogunjobi's death was followed by that of multiple African Women's Championship winner and former Nigeria women's under-19 captain Ifeanyi Chiejine. The World Cup star passed away in August, to the shock of the entire country.

As if that were not enough, former youth international captain Isaac Promise passed away in October, around the same time that two players from Nigeria Women's Pro League side Police Machine -- Aniebet Ekong and Glory Saturday -- were killed in a car crash.