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Complete Football Edition 1

  • Text
  • Nigeria
  • Medal
  • August
  • Nigerian
  • Brazil
  • Atlanta
  • Olympic
  • Olympics
  • African
  • Eagles

SIASIA: WE'RE GOING FOR

SIASIA: WE'RE GOING FOR GOLD! words: KAYODE OGUNDARE NIGERIA will start the quest for a second gold medal in the football event at the Olympics on August 4, 2016 when they take on Japan in a group B opener at the 45,549-capacity Arena da Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil. This is a road Nigeria have walked countless times and none knows the expectations of a football-crazy country than Samson Siasia, the 48-year old former Nigerian international who earned acclaim when he took the Olympic Team all the way to the 2008 final before being halted by a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina. Now, eight years after, Siasia is back at the Olympics and is determined to go one step better by winning the gold medal to equal the feat achieved by the Nigerian team to the 1996 Olympic fittingly named 'Dream Team'. 20 years ago in Atlanta, the Nigerian U-23 team comprising some of the nation's finest young footballers stormed to a gold medal win in a manner which has become the standard by which the country's subsequent Olympic teams have been measured and found wanting. In that period, the 2008 team led by Siasia has come closest to replicating the magic which Atlanta represented so the rising decibel of expectation is understandable if aligned with the fact that Sia-One is arguably the country's favourite youth coach. The coach is not unaware of the expectations on his team. Before departing for Brazil, he said: “My target in Rio is to pick the gold medal having won the silver medal in Beijing in 2008. I am confident that with the calibre of players at our disposal, we will achieve our goal.” Siasia also run the rule on Nigeria's first round opponents and concluded that Japan, Colombia and Sweden cannot stop his gloryseeking team. “For me, all the teams played qualifiers to get here. Besides, the Group has two continental champions alongside Nigeria, so I don't expect it to be a stroll in the park for us, but with quality preparations I am sure we will pick one of the tickets from this group,” he said in reference to Japan and Sweden which qualified as champions of Asia and Europe respectively. AFRICAN CHAMPIONS The Nigerian lads reached Brazil after navigating through a tough African U-23 AFCON in Senegal, beating a plucky Algeria 2-1 in the final. The bulk of that triumphant team has been beefed up with the inclusion of some Europe-based professional players as well as the three discretionary over-aged players allowed by competition rules. Getting the players he desired has been a herculean task such that Siasia was forced to complain about the refusal of clubs to release their players for Olympic duty. Such was his frustration that he even suggested it might be better if the Flying Eagles, the country's U-20 team, is deployed to do battle in Brazil since the older players are not likely to be available. “We might as well take the Flying Eagles to the Olympics. We have been training and teaching them what to do, but we could not do the simple things tactically,” the coach moaned after his depleted side was beaten in a practice match for the second time in as many games by the U-20 team. FRUSTRATION Siasia's best efforts to get players like Manchester City's Kelechi, Arsenal's Alex Iwobi among some other bright Nigerian youngsters has been frustrated by an ambiguous FIFA proclamation that clubs are not under any obligation to release their players for Olympic duties but rather pleads “for support from the clubs to allow players who are called up by their national teams to be given the chance to be part of the Olympic experience,” according to a spokesperson. Apart from those who were not released by their clubs, Siasia failed to include in his 35- man shortlist some players who'd distinguished themselves at the youth level. Victor Osimhen, top-scorer at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup was dropped despite being a part of the U-23 team which won the AFCON in Senegal. Also not included was Osimhen's U-17 teammate Kelechi Nwakali who was voted tournament MVP at the cadet World Cup. The new Arsenal of England player expressed regret at his exclusion from the team. “I would have loved to be on the list,” he said of the provisional list of 35 players. “Every player within the age bracket would love to be in the team and it is the same with me.” POOR PREPARATIONS The absence of these players, coupled with a string of poor results, has exacerbated the doubts surrounding the prospects of winning gold in Rio. At the Suwon International Cup in South Korea, the U-23 team lost 1-0 to the hosts, got pummeled 6-1 before a face-saving 3-1 win against Honduras. The Olympic team also lost 1-0 in a high profile friendly game against Mexico in the United States. These poor run of games gives cause for concern and team captain Azubuike Okechukwu is understandably worried. “I am very concerned and it's the same with the other players and we have been holding meetings on how we can improve,” he said. “We are really having a bad time now.” Ex-international Dahiru Sadi, a former national teammate of Siasia, is also concerned. “They have to go back to the drawing board and re-assess the whole situation. The good thing is that the friendly games are just to ascertain the level of preparedness for the Olympics which means you use it to test your team's strength and based on that, Siasia has a lot of work to do.” Siasia knows his team, packed full of exciting attacking players, has a soft underbelly. The defence has been a source of worry, shipping five goals in as many games during the AFCON in Senegal. “We need help in defence, we have a lot of problems there. Hopefully (Wilfred) Ndidi will be released by his club and he will join us (in USA training camp).” He's also listed Kenneth Omeruo (Chelsea, England) and Godfrey Oboabona (Caykur Rizepor, Turkey) to beef up the leaky backline. GOLD OR NOTHING Patchy defence notwithstanding, the team is pumped up to shock all comers and win gold. And, as a statement of intent to the other teams, Siasia has opted for a final training camp in Atlanta, venue of Nigeria's historic triumph 20 years ago, in order to “psychologically prepare my boys for victory in Brazil.” COMPLETE FOOTBALL 4

match guide GROUP D GROUP C GROUP B GROUP A DATE TIME MATCH VENUE 4 August 2016 13:00 Iraq V Denmark Estádio Nacional, Brasília 4 August 2016 16:00 Brazil V South Africa Estádio Nacional, Brasília 7 August 2016 19:00 Denmark V South Africa Estádio Nacional, Brasília 7 August 2016 22:00 Brazil V Iraq Estádio Nacional, Brasília 10 August 2016 22:00 Denmark V Brazil Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador 10 August 2016 22:00 South Africa V Iraq Arena Corinthians, São Paulo 4 August 2016 18:00* Sweden V Colombia Arena da Amazônia, Manaus 4 August 2016 21:00* Nigeria V Japan Arena da Amazônia, Manaus 7 August 2016 18:00* Sweden V Nigeria Arena da Amazônia, Manaus 7 August 2016 21:00* Japan V Colombia Arena da Amazônia, Manaus 10 August 2016 19:00 Japan V Sweden Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador 10 August 2016 19:00 Colombia V Nigeria Arena Corinthians, São Paulo 4 August 2016 17:00 Mexico V Germany Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador 4 August 2016 20:00 Fiji V South Korea Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador 7 August 2016 13:00 Fiji V Mexico Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador 7 August 2016 16:00 Germany V South Korea Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador 10 August 2016 16:00 Germany V Fiji Mineirão, Belo Horizonte 10 August 2016 16:00 South Korea V Mexico Estádio Nacional , Brasília 4 August 2016 15:00 Honduras V Algeria Estádio Olímpico, Rio de Janeiro 4 August 2016 18:00 Portugal V Argentina Estádio Olímpico, Rio de Janeiro 7 August 2016 15:00 Honduras V Portugal Estádio Olímpico, Rio de Janeiro 7 August 2016 18:00 Argentina V Algeria Estádio Olímpico, Rio de Janeiro 10 August 2016 13:00 Argentina V Honduras Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha, Brasília 10 August 2016 13:00 Algeria V Portugal Mineirão, Belo Horizonte QUARTER-FINALS 13 August 2016 13:00 Winner Group D V Runner-up Group C Estádio Nacional (Match 25) 13 August 2016 16:00 Winner Group B V Runner-up Group A Itaipava Arena (Match 26) 13 August 2016 19:00 Winner Group C V Runner-up Group D Mineirão (Match 27) 13 August 2016 22:00 Winner Group A V Runner-up Group B Arena Corinthians (Match 28) SEMI-FINALS 17 August 2016 13:00 Winner Match 28 v Winner Match 27 Maracanã, Rio (Match 29) 17 August 2016 16:00 Winner Match 26 v Winner Match 25 Arena Corinthians (Match 30) BRONZE MEDAL MATCH 20 August 2016 13:00 Loser Match 30 v Loser Match 29 Mineirão, Belo Horizonte GOLD MEDAL MATCH 20 August 2016 17:30 Winner Match 30 v Winner Match 29 Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro

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