Despite coronavirus challenges in the year 2021, many sporting activities went on as scheduled and there were some thrilling moments for Nigeria and her athletes during the course of the year.
In this report, Ripples Nigeria’s Ben Ugbana highlights 10 of these moments that Nigerians will never forget in a hurry.
1. Team Bayelsa beat Lagos, Rivers, others to win third at National Sports Festival
The rescheduled 20th National Sports Festival (NSF) hosted by Edo State in April 2021, saw many intriguing moments, but top of the list was how Bayelsa stunned the likes of Lagos, Kano and Rivers states to finish third on the medals table.
Team Delta were the overall winners with 158 gold, 116 silver and 110 bronze medals, totaling 384 medals. Hosts, Edo State came second with 129 gold, 104 silver and 108 bronze medals, while Bayelsa State with 56 gold, 55 silver and 58 bronze medals finished in third place.
2. Asisat Oshoala becomes first African woman to win the UEFA Champions League
Another unforgettable moment in Nigerian sports was when Super Falcons striker, Oshoala helped Barcelona Ladies clinch the 2020/2021 UEFA Women’s Champions League in May, becoming the first African woman to win the competition.
The four-time African best player award winner was in action in the final as she came on as a substitute in the 71st minute to help her team hold on to a 4-0 lead against Chelsea.
The triumph was also a historic feat for Barca Ladies was as the 2019 finalists finally fulfilled their long-time dream of becoming the champions of Europe.
3. Kelechi Iheanacho and Wilfred Ndidi win historic English FA Cup title with Leicester City
Oshoala’s feat was immediately followed by the stunning triumph of Leicester City in the English FA Cup by the help of Super Eagles duo of Iheanacho and Ndidi.
Nigerians were excited for the duo who would later fly the Nigerian flag while running around the pitch following the 1-0 victory over Chelsea in a thrilling final at Wembley in May.
Leicester, who were playing in their first FA Cup final since 1969, clinched the title for the first time in history, while their defeated opponents Chelsea went on to win the Champions League title.
4. Moments when Ese Brume and Blessing Oborodudu won medals for Team Nigeria in Tokyo
The rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympics saw several moments for Team Nigeria, both good and not-so-good, but the most memorable of them all would be the fact that the team left the Japanese city with two hard-fought medals. It was the country’s best Olympics outing in 13 years in terms of accolades, even though the team finished a distant 74th on the medals table.
Despite the numerous challenges faced by Team Nigeria and crowned by the disqualification of over 10 athletes including Blessing Okagbare who was already in the semifinal of her event, Nigeria successfully clinched two medals on the 11th day of the Games.
Nigerians were already losing hope when Oborodudu ensured a podium finish as she made it to the final of the women’s 68kg freestyle wrestling to eventually win silver and become the first Nigerian to win an Olympic medal in the sport. Brume then won bronze after jumping to a third-place finish in the women’s long jump event on the same day.
5. D’Tigress clinch third successive Afrobasket title
The Nigeria women’s basketball team, D’Tigress may have had a poor Tokyo Olympics outing in July-August, but they bounced back and went on to claim their rightful place in Africa as they fought hard to defend the FIBA Afrobasket title again.
It was a three-peat! The Otis Hughley ladies brought glory to their country when they defeated Mali 70-59 in the final of the competition on 26 September to win a third consecutive continental title.
6. Nigerian athletes bag records at the U-20 World Athletics
Team Nigeria had a very fine outing at the 2021 U-20 World Athletics held at Nairobi in August, with the team successfully raking in four Gold and three Bronze medals to finish third on the final medals table.
Nigerians were super excited as the team rewrote the history of the country’s participation at the biennial youth championships with an unprecedented haul of medals and setting of new records.
The biggest point of excitement for Nigerian sports lovers was the moment when the 4x400m mixed relay team comprising of Johnson Nnamani, Imaobong Nse Uko, Opeyemi Oke and Bamidele Ajayi made history as the first-time winners of the event at the championships with a time of 3:19.70.
7. Bayelsa United win fairy-tale Aiteo Cup title to land continental spot
Being among the least favourite to clinch the title, Bayelsa stunned the country by fighting their way through to the final to win the Aiteo Cup title. In football, there are fairytale stories of teams winning tournaments as non favourites, and this was the case of Bayelsa United.
The club were in the second division, NNL when they won the Cup. They defeated big teams on the road to the final and saw off Nasarawa United in the final.
Their triumph qualified them for the CAF Confederation Cup, where they only got to the second round of the competition before crashing out.
8. Akwa United clinch first-ever NPFL title
2021 seemed to be a year of many firsts in Nigerian football, with Akwa United also securing a historic victory in the nation’s topflight, the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).
It was a moment of ecstasy in the state of Akwa Ibom during the period when the club, whose home ground is the Nest of Champions in Uyo, thrashed MFM 5-2 to become champions with one game left.
9. Moments when D’Tigers stunned world heavyweights, USA and Argentina, in pre-Olympic tests
Expectations grew very high among Nigerian fans after the National men’s basketball team, D’Tigers pulled off two incredible victories ahead of their participation at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, beating World number one USA and world number four Argentina.
D’Tigers, led by coach Mike Brown, bagged an incredible 90-87 win over Olympics champions United States on 11 July, making them the first-ever African team to beat the USA, before going on to beat Argentina 94-71 two nights after.
But unfortunately the team failed to go past the group stage at the Olympics proper after losing all three group games.
10. Aruna Quadri ranks 13th best table tennis player in the world
Aruna, Nigeria’s top table tennis player, had an excellent year in 2021 and gave his country many reasons to rejoice during the course of the year.
The 33-year-old Oyo-born athlete set several records but his climbing to the 13th spot in the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) world ranking, was the highest feat in the year.
No African player had reached that height in history. Aruna also admitted that he has to work hard to remain at the level.
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