On Saturday, Nigeria’s fate on Rio 2016 Olympics will be decided as they face Algeria in Dakar, Senegal, for the last group game of the Africa U-23 championship. Egypt, on the other end, are up against Mali, who have nothing to lose after crashing out of the competition.
Samson Siasia, coach of the U-23 team, guided Nigeria to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, winning a silver medal. He also coached the U-20 team to African Youth Championship success, and led the team to the World Youth Championship, Holland 2005, losing to Argentina in the final.
While coaching these teams, he discovered talents for the country, such as John Mikel Obi (who has succeeded at Chelsea, winning domestic and European titles), Taiye Taiwo (won league and federation titles at Olympic Marseilles) Elderson Echiejile (enjoys European football with Monaco), Chinedu Obasi (bronze medalist at 2010 nations cup), Efe Ambrose (five domestic titles with Celtic) and a host of others who have eventually played for the senior national team.
Looking through the records, many would argue that ‘Siaone’, as fondly called by colleagues and fans in his playing days, is capable of turning Nigeria’s fortune around on Saturday and perhaps bringing back good memories of Atlanta 1996 and Beijing 2008 Olympics in Rio 2016.
Much is also expected of the coach to produce more talents from the team in Senegal.
Under Augustine Eguavoen, Nigeria missed out on London 2012 Olympics after crashing out in the group stages of a qualifying tournament in Morocco, losing twice and winning just once.
Will Nigeria miss out on an Olympic ticket again? Or will the odds favour the Dream Team V1 in the end? That question will be answered within the next two hours.
Looking at the current players managed by Siasia in this year’s tournament, putting up a shoddy performance against Mali and Egypt, the likes of Daniel Emmanuel, goalkeeper of the team; Azubuike Okechukwu, team captain; Oghenekaro Etebo, who scored two goals against Egypt; strike Junior Ajayi; Taiwo Awoniyi; and U17-graduate Victor Osimhen (unused sub) must produce a fine showing if Nigeria must book a ticket to Rio de Janiero.
A loss to a tactically-disciplined Algerian side will see Nigeria crash out, while a draw for a team, whose defence has struggled thus far, may not be enough should Egypt beat Mali by at least a two-goal margin.