Nigeria is back for the football event at the Olympics after missing out at the London Games four years ago and while that is something to cheer the fear of a nightmarish outing in Rio for the Dream Team VI is prevalent chiefly because of the country’s build-up to the games.
Coach of the Nigeria U-23 team, Samson Siasia has been there but has not done it and having failed to even get the best legs he would have wanted in Rio like many of the other countries also comepeting, a daunting task is on the cards.
At the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, Siasia was 90 minutes from the gold medal before a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina broke his hearts.
Many of the members of that team are not playing football again but one player that should have been a part of that team is making up for lost time in 2016 – Mikel Obi.
The Chelsea star has already being named Captain of the Nigeria U-23 and whether he would be able to lead the country to another gold medal winning feat; 20 years after the triumph in Atlanta is yet to be seen.
Interestingly, Nigeria’s final round of preparations though marred with unpleasant stories around paucity of funds has been taking place in Atlanta, Georgia which brings fond memories of the country’s best Olympic outing till date.
Nigeria is heading to Rio as African champions with the duo of Algeria and South Africa also flying the continent’s flag.
While hosts, Brazil are top guns for gold on home soil chiefly because the South American country seeks to win the last piece of silverware missing in the their trophy-laden cabinet, no one expects a stroll in the pack for any country that would finish tops among the 16 teams in contention.
Olympic tournaments often feature surprises, and countries that typically don’t challenge for World Cup honors—especially those from Africa and Asia—have fared far better at the U-23 level.
Meanwhile, squads from Europe, home of the past three World Cup winners, have claimed only one of the last nine Olympic medals (Italy won bronze in ’04).
There are few household names among the over-age players, thanks in part to this summer’s Copa América and European Championship tournaments and in part to the August kickoff to international club soccer’s preseason. A couple of exceptions will be playing for Mexico, which is taking its title defense seriously. Club América star Oribe Peralta, 33, will be leading the attack. He scored the gold medal-winning goal four years ago. He’ll be joined by UANL Tigres defender Jorge Torres Nilo, an El Tri mainstay.
Group A: Brazil, South Africa, Iraq, Denmark
Group B: Sweden, Colombia, Nigeria, Japan
Group C: Germany, Mexico, Fiji, South Korea
Group D: Portugal, Argentina, Honduras, Algeria
Group match days: Aug. 4, 7, 10
Quarterfinals: Aug. 13
Semifinals: Aug. 17
Bronze medal: Aug. 20 at Mineirão, Belo Horizonte
Gold medal: Aug. 20 at Estádio do Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro