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Rio Olympics: Dream Team’s Dicey Match In Brazzaville

Posted: Jul 25, 2015 at 3:32 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Chibuike Chukwu –  Lagos


The Under-23, on Sunday, defeated its Congo 2-1 at the Adokiye Amasiemeka Stadium, Port Harcourt, to kick-start its double-headed African U-23 Championship, which also severs as qualifiers for the Rio Olympics.

Before the match, Coach Samson Siasia had promised a 4-0 scoreline in order to make the second leg in Congo a mere formality.
The Nigerians dominated the match and could have scored many goals in the first half had they converted the many chances that came their way.

Despite the glittering opportunities, the curtain raiser only came in the 47th minute through a Junior Ajayi strike after Congo goalkeeper, Christoffer Mafoumbi, failed to hold on to a shot from Godwin Savior.
The player doubled the advantage six minutes later, when he powered home with a brilliant header off a cross from Daniel Etor.
Also, in the 59th minute, a penalty appeal by Nigeria in the 59th minute was overlooked by the Kenyan referee, but television replays later showed it should have been given as Etebo Oghenekaro’s shot was handled by a Congo defender inside the box.
However, Congo’s Nkoukou reduced the two-goal advantage to set up a very difficult second leg encounter for the Nigerian side.

Even though Siasia has come to defend his wards, promising a better outing in Congo, it is left to be seen how Nigeria will save Congo blushes to move ahead, knowing that the junior Red Devils needs only 1-0 scoreline to advance.

“Really my boys played well even though we failed to hold on to our two-goal lead. You will agree with me that Congo also played well.
“The boys fall under heavy pressure to score more goals. Be that as it may, I believe that we will take the game to them in the second leg if my players played the way they did in the first leg.”

When Siasia was appointed to manage the nation’s U-23 side, not a few Nigerians saw the appointment as a round peg in a round hole considering the coach’s past record in that category.
Siasia, it would be recalled, led Nigeria to a silver medal finish at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in The Netherlands in 2005, where the Nigerian side lost in the final to Argentina.
Also, at the Beijing Olympics, it was a similar scenario, as Messi-inspired Argentina defeated Nigeria in the final of the men’s football event, with Siasia being at the helm of affairs for the Nigerian side.

Before both occasions, the Siasia sides had conquered the continent, making him unarguably one of the most successful managers of Nigeria in the U-20 and U-23 categories.
On the strength of his past records, football followers were quite convinced when the coach said he would win Congo with at least four un-replied goals.
“We have been preparing hard for the game and I am sure we are going to win the game convincingly, I am looking at us getting like a 4-0 win, but victory is what we will play for.”

The team, during the match, seemed to be on course for the prediction with early commanding performance, where it pinned the Congolese to its own side, mounting ceaseless pressures on the visitors but with no goal to justify it.
The visitors, on the other hand, demonstrated resilience and discipline in the defence to ward off any goal from Nigerians. Even Claude LeRoy, the Congo coach, admittedly commended his boys for not conceding more than two goals.

“We never contemplated about beating the Nigerian team at home because we are still dreaming to be like Dream Team of Nigeria. On Sunday, we lost 2-1 but it was the Nigerian team that created a lot of chances. They were better but 2-1 loss is not too bad for my players; it’s good we did not concede more goals,” said the veteran Frenchman.
That said, it is imperative to mention that matches are won on goals and not ball possession or near misses. Nigeria may have dominated the match and came close to scoring on several occasions, but all those feats would have been efforts in futility if the Dream Team fails to overcome Congo in Brazzaville.

On the reverse fixture coming up in Congo, Siasia must be optimistic of the encounter and correct all the defects observed in the team.
Siasia is optimistic of qualifying despite the slim 2-1 victory, blamed the outcome on overconfidence.

His confidence stems from the team excellent away records. The Nigeria U-23 defeated 4-1 Gabon in Libreville and also beat Zambia 2-0 in Lusaka to qualify for the African Games football event holding in Brazzaville 2015.
As former Super Eagles coach, Adegboye Onigbinde, rightly observed, when he spoke to Daily Independent, the boys should believe in themselves and demonstrate calm in front of goals during the second leg.

“I didn’t watch the match, but from what I heard, they played well but managed to score two goals and the opponent scored one.
“That is not still bad, as they are going to Congo with a win already in their pocket. At worst, they should not concede. Secondly, they should be calm in front of goal, even their opponent scores first.”
Also speaking, a contemporary of the coach in the national team and former Eagles striker, Mutiu Adepoju, admitted that the Dream Team walks tight rope, but said the Congo mission is still very much in Nigeria’s hand.
“They played well but the goals refused to come in numbers. With the slim lead, Nigeria, to me, is still with a bright chance to move ahead.
“All the players need to do is to be focused and believe in themselves. Siasia should try and beef up the team if there is any need for that. Nigeria will go through; I see us beating Congo in their backyard.”

To another ex-international, Henry Nwosu, the key to beating Congo in Brazzaville is calling up some of the best players in that category, who did not play the first leg.
“We have done it before and we can do it again. All Siasia needs to do is to call up some of the players he did not use in that match. Players like Kelechi Iheanacho and Moses Simon should be called to strengthen the squad.
“The Congolese were really lucky to escape with only 2-1 defeat because our boys played their hearts out. They should be patient in the second leg and should not let many openings at their back.”

As the second leg approaches, Siasia must guide his loins very well and come out with a winning strategy in Brazzaville.
As the popular cache says, the best form of defence is attack. Nigeria cannot afford to sit back and defend its marginal advantage, as the Congolese will likely throw everything on them.