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Complete Football Edition 1

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

READY FOR RIO! AJAYI

READY FOR RIO! AJAYI OLUWAFEMI JUNIOR, Nigeria's Olympic team and CS Sfaxien of Tunisia striker is one of the players coach Samson Siasia will be depending on when the race to win a second football gold medal begins in Brazil. The 20-year old assures that the Nigerian lads are fortified enough to dust all comers even though the competition will be fierce. He spoke with KAYODE OGUNDARE and JOHNNY EDWARD…. ou helped the U-23 to victory at the AFCON in YSenegal last year. Next stop is the Olympics in Brazil. What is the expectation from Rio? My expectation is that we will come back with the gold medal, nothing less. That's the expectation of every Nigerian and that's what we'll be working towards. How do we make this expectation become a reality? We must be ready to sweat blood, work hard and be better than the rest. And, of course, we'll also pray to be lucky in our games because that's one factor you cannot rule out. But I think, after 20 years, we are due for another gold medal finish and by God's grace, we'll make it happen. The U-23 team participated in a 4-Nation international tournament in Suwon, South Korea last June, but was less than impressive with two losses and a win from three games. You missed the Suwon tournament but what exactly do you think is wrong and what needs to be done? I felt disappointed not to have been in Suwon but my club said I couldn't go. I would have loved to be there to help my country but the decision was not mine to take. I'm always ready to play for Nigeria whenever I'm called upon to do so. Having said that, I don't want to take away anything from the efforts of my teammates who made the team and played in the competition. If there's one thing to be learnt, it is that our team still needs to work very hard. I remember our friendly game against the Tunisian U-23 team. They beat us 5-3 in the first game and when we played the second one, we won 3-1 to show how much we learnt from the defeat. I'm certain the coaches now know what went wrong in Suwon and would be ready to correct all our flaws by the time we land in Rio. The current team is spoilt for choice in the attacking department. Don't you feel that your place in the team could be threatened by these players? (Laughs) No, no, not at all. I'm not scared. We are all Nigerians and we all have equal rights to play for the country. As a matter of fact, when I see the quality of players we parade in this team, I feel sorry for our opponents. Rather than get scared, it's a motivation for me to work harder, improve on my game and make it difficult for the coaches to drop me. These players will help me get better and I hope I can do the same for them. However, whether I play or not will depend on the coaches' decision and whoever is chosen, as long as we win then I'm satisfied as a Nigerian. Nigeria is grouped alongside Colombia, Sweden and Japan. What do you think of your chances against these teams? It's a strong group but we cannot afford not to get out of the group in the strongest possible manner. We must work hard because nobody will offer us the ticket for free. Because of our pedigree, Nigeria will be a marked team by all our opponents but with hardwork, unity and luck, we'll definitely do well and qualify from that group. In the qualifying game away against Congo, you suddenly slumped after the game and it took the medics time to revive you. What exactly happened and is there a need to be scared about your health? Hahahaha, not at all. Congo was a tough match on a difficult pitch. We took a 2-1 lead into the second leg and we needed to ensure that Congo did not score if we couldn't so everybody worked extra hard. I played to the coaches' instruction to keep the Congolese defenders on their toes and I kept running for all 90 minutes on a synthetic pitch. I guess the heat was too much for me and that was why I collapsed. I was revived and told to take a lot of water and observe some rest. I got back on my feet and I've been okay since then. Thanks for asking. Let's look beyond Rio, Junior. Do you dream of playing for the Super Eagles someday? Of course it is the dream of every player to wear the green and white of the senior team and I hope to do so someday soon but, like everything else in life, nobody will hand you the jersey if you don't deserve to wear it. Even if somebody influences your inclusion in the team, only your performance can guarantee your staying and playing. I know I need to work hard and improve my game and then we shall see how it goes when the time comes. But, for now, it's Rio. Last season you joined CS Sfaxien of Tunisia from 3SC and helped the team with 10 goals and seven assists. However your team couldn't sustain the momentum and fell short of winning the league title. How has it been for you? AJAYI: It was a learning curve for me, being my first season abroad but it was an important step in my career. I was a bit disappointed that I did relatively well on a personal level but the club did not achieve our collective objective. We aimed to win the league and we actually gave it our best shot but, along the line, we lost focus and derailed. It's disappointing, knowing that we gave it our best shot, but we have learnt valuable lessons which will serve us better going forward. We'll learn from our mistakes and work on our shortcomings. You are teammates with another Nigerian Kingsley Sokari at CSS. How does that make you feel? Junior Ajayi When I first arrived at CSS, I felt lonely due to the language and culture which were new to me. With the arrival of Sokari, I feel fulfilled that I'm with my brother. We help each other on and off the pitch and I'm sure it reflected in our individual performances for the club. Having Sokari at Sfaxien has been a blessing for me and I'm sure he will say the same. There's been a subtle change in your game. You are an out-and-out striker but last season you played from the wings for your club and ended up with 10 goals. Have you discovered your best position on the pitch now or do you miss playing in your natural role? When I arrived in Sfaxien, the coach said: you're a striker right? I said yes. He said: good. Now I want to see you play from the wings. I had never played on the wings before but he pushed me to the left wing and I had to work twice as hard in order to justify my inclusion in the team. I took it as a challenge and I'm glad to pass the test. Yea, I'm now comfortable playing from the wing, something I didn't know I was capable of doing, but I still see myself as a striker, not a winger. Looking forward to the next season, will you still like to continue in Tunisia with CS Sfaxien or you'll prefer to seek greener pastures elsewhere? As we speak, I'm a player of CS Sfaxien and if I'm staying with them, I must give all of my best. CSS is not my final destination so if I'm to leave I still need to improve my game to justify a transfer away. I desire to play in one of the top leagues in Europe but either way I must try to improve my game always. Alright, Junior. We wish you and the team goodluck at the Olympics. Goodluck to all Nigerians. Thank you very much. COMPLETE FOOTBALL 6

From Mexico '68 – London 2012: IGERIA became the fifth African country – after NEgypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Ghana - to qualify for the football event of the Olympics when they attended the Mexico 1968 edition. Between then and now, Nigeria has become the most successful team at the Olympics with one gold and one silver and are set to further extend the record with another appearance at the Rio Olympics in Brazil. KAYODE OGUNDARE traces the participation of Nigeria at the football event of the Olympics from 1968 – when the country debuted – to the last edition held in London. TOKYO 1964 NIGERIA entered the qualification series for the Tokyo '64 Olympics in Japan but got knocked out by Morocco. The Green Eagles started brightly with a 3-0 win at home but lost the return fixture 4-1 to the Atlas Lions who went ahead to represent Africa at the games. In Japan, the North Africans lost their two games 6-0 to eventual gold medal winners Hungary and 3-1 to Yugoslavia MEXICO 1968 NIGERIA finally debuted at the football event of the Olympics after nicking one of the slots reserved for Africa with fellow West Africans Ghana and Guinea also going to the party. At the competition proper, the Green Eagles opened their account with a 3-1 loss to Japan, Sam Okoye's 33rd minute equalizer briefly given the Nigerians hope of a fightback but Kunishige Kumamoto's late brace in the 72nd and 89th minutes completed his hattrick and a comprehensive win for the Asians. Another 3-0 loss to Spain, Antonio Grande's second half brace adding to Fernando Ortuno's opener, effectively knocked Nigeria out of the competition but they still had Brazil to play and the Eagles exited Mexico in style. Nigeria reserved her best performance for last with a thrilling 3-3 draw after racing to a three-nil first half lead through Kenneth Olayombo's brace and another by Peter Aneke. The South Americans clawed back to pull level, helped largely by Segun Olumodeji's own goal either side of Fernando Fereti and Tiao's goals. Beaten but not bowed, Nigeria took more positives than negatives away from their debut performance. 7 COMPLETE FOOTBALL Rashidi Yekini scored Nigeria’s only goal at SEOUL ‘88 MUNICH 1972 NIGERIA missed out on the trip to Germany with Morocco, Ghana and Sudan claiming the three tickets. Of the lot, only Morocco advanced beyond the first round before crashing to three straight defeats in the second round. MONTREAL 1976 THE Green Eagles qualified for the football event of the 1976 Olympics in Canada but led fellow qualifiers Ghana and Zambia in a withdrawal from the games for political reasons, citing New Zealand's tour of Apartheid South Africa. Thus was lost what could have probably being Nigeria's first real attempt at winning an Olympic medal. MOSCOW 1980 THE Green Eagles, fresh from winning a first AFCON title on home soil, travelled to the former USSR with high hopes of bringing back a football medal to reflect their new status as African champions but their results in three games were underwhelming. A 3-1 loss to Kuwait (Mahboub Mubarak's own goal was Nigeria's only strike) was followed by a 1-1 draw with Czechoslovakia with Henry Nwosu drawing the Eagles level after trailing for most of the game before they finally crashed 1-0 to Colombia. Again, Nigeria went back home with a solitary point and still in search of a first win at the games. LOS ANGELES 1984 NIGERIA was not represented at the football event of the Olympics. The African contingent was remarkable because, for the first time, all three won at least one match before exiting the competition. Cameroun and Morocco both placed third in their groups while Egypt qualified for the next round behind its group leaders Italy. The Pharaohs bowed out 2-0 to France in the quarter-finals. SEOUL 1988 THE GREEN Eagles were back in the medals-hunt at South Korea after missing the party in the USA four years before but it was fellow African qualifiers Zambia which grabbed all the headlines with a comprehensive 4-0 win over almighty Italy which had won the FIFA World Cup six years before. Nigeria lost her opening game 4-0 to Brazil, followed by another 3-1 loss to Yugoslavia (the late Rashidi Yekini got Nigeria's consolation goal) before bowing out with another 1-0 setback to Australia. Despite high hopes, Nigeria returned from Seoul without a point, for the first time since 1968. BARCELONA 1992 AGAIN Nigeria was missing as a change in the Olympic rules saw participation in the football event restricted to players under the age of 23 for the first time. Ghana, Egypt and Morocco flew Africa's flag but it was the Ghanaians who went all the way to the semi-

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