A top three finish and, consequently, a place in the Olympics football event seemed uncertain when the semi-finals of the African Under-23 Championship pitched Nigeria against tournament hosts, Senegal. A win for Nigeria’s Dream Team would mean automatic qualification while a loss would leave the Olympic dream hinged on victory in a third place play-off match.
A hard-fought (and perhaps, lucky) lone goal victory over Senegal however, sent Coach
Samson Siasia into the history books as having qualified the country for the football event of the Olympics Games twice. Interestingly, on both occasions qualification was secured on away grounds as the recent 2016 Olympic ticket was won against Senegal (in a competition hosted in Senegal) eight years after the 2008 Olympics ticket was nicked from Ghana in Accra.
There was more icing on the cake as the team went ahead to win the qualifying competition despite stories of the perennial money problems. The players and (especially) the coaching crew must be immensely commended for this feat considering that the team underwent something of a late overhaul due after a string of unconvincing performances and the unavailability of some invited players.
And so, to Rio we come.
This qualification is a very welcome development because Rio 2016 may very well be a turning point in the country’s quest for glory on the international football circuit. The tournament presents not just another opportunity for Olympic glory, but a platform for marketing some of our young players. The tournament will also serve to cultivate a befitting Super Eagles team for the 2018 World Cup.
To achieve these, steps must be taken to ensure a good outing. While not discountenancing the efforts of all the players who earned this ticket, the team will have to be fortified at the competition proper. Fortunately, there are a handful of experienced players (some already in the Super Eagles) within the required age bracket.
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The Super Eagles quartet of Phillip Madu, Kenneth Omeruo, William Troost-Ekong, Shehu Abdullahi plus the yet uninvited Derik Osede will be a big boost in the defense. Anderson Esiti who had an impressive debut in the Super Eagles would be a useful addition to the midfield, as would Abdul Ajagun and Alex Iwobi.
They may not be having the most productive of times at club level, but impressive Moses Simon, Michael Olaitan, Imoh Ezekiel and Cedric Omoigui provide experienced options in attack.
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These are only a few from a large pool of players at home and abroad. If further strengthened with the allowed three over aged players (Ogenyi Onazi, Victor Moses and Odion Ighalo, for example), Dream Team VI stands a good chance of an Olympic Gold medal in South America next year.
A successful campaign in a high quality competition of this nature will boost the confidence of the players, increase their market value and possibly earn them more lucrative career challenges. The competition experience garnered – as a unit – will boost synergy which will be beneficial when the players graduate or return to the Super Eagles preparatory to the World Cup about two years thereafter.