The Nigeria U23 team, the Dream Team VI will Sunday begin their quest for a place at next year’s Rio Olympic Games as they open their campaign at the Africa U23 Cup of Nations against fast emerging West African rivals, Mali.
Coach Samson Siasia has been given the mandate to secure a ticket to the men’s football event of the Rio Olympics as the country does not want to miss out same way it did last term when Coach Austin Eguavoen failed to qualify Nigeria for the 2012 London Olympics.
Though many would have wished that the build-up by Nigeria to the Africa U23 Cup of Nations was much better than it was, there would be no excuse for the Dream Team VI not to secure one of the three tickets up for grabs in Senegal.
Inadvertently, a longer route for a playoff will be available for the fourth placed team in Senegal.
Learning from the mistakes of his predecessors, Coach Siasia was wise enough to build his team around local-based players and even though he could not lay his hands on all the players he would have love to use in Senegal, the Nigeria U23 Head Coach still has enough firepower to make the minimum requirement of finishing in top three amongst the eight teams on parade in Senegal.
Like in every tournament, the importance of a bright start in the opening game cannot be over-emphasised and that would be key for the Dream Team VI who failed to meet the expectations of many at the last All Africa Games where they could only manage a third-place finish.
Sunday’s group opener against Mali will be tricky to say the least as everybody has seen the tremendous progress made in Malian football of late which has seen them shone at the FIFA U20 and U17 World Cups.
Another factor that could count in favour of the Malians is their proximity to Senegal as they will be guaranteed much support from the stands.
Mali last featured at the Olympics in Athens 2004 and they gladly want a return to Rio this term.
Nigeria who prides itself as the first sub Saharan country to win gold at the Olympics after the heroics of the 1996 Olympics team under Jo Bonfere will thus have to be on their toes as they seek a ticket to Rio.
Interestingly, Coach Siasia was in charge of the last Nigeria team to the Olympics and it was in Beijing 2008 when Nigeria narrowly missed out on another gold medal having lost to Argentina in the final.
Group B Matches (Sunday)
Egypt vs Algeria
Mali vs Nigeria