After missing out in London four years ago, Nigeria’s under 23 men’s football team will once again compete at the 2016 Olympics which commences on Friday in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
Known as the Dream Team VI, Nigeria is in Group B alongside Colombia, Japan and Sweden, as they aim to go one better than the silver medal they won at the 2008 Beijing Olympic games and recreate history like in 1996 when they became the first African country to win a football GOLD.
Led by Coach Samson Siasia, the team qualified for this competition winning the African U-23 Nations Cup held in Senegal in 2015. They earned automatic qualification beating the hosts 1-0 in the semi-finals before going on to secure a 2-1 victory against Algeria in the final.
Nigeria will play it’s first game of the Olympics against Japan on Friday (2am Nigerian time), although the team is still stranded in Atlanta, USA over travel logistical issues, following the non-prompt payment of their chartered flight to Manaus, Brazil.
John Mikel Obi and Daniel Akpeyi are the only two over-aged players named in the squad for this tournament with the Chelsea midfielder taking over Team Captain duties from Azubuike Okechukwu.
Nigeria is about five hours ahead of Manaus and four hours ahead of Sao Paulo in Brazil where the group stage fixtures will be taking place. This means that all the games will take place late at night or early in the morning by Nigerian time.
Here’s the full group stage schedule for Dream Team VI:
Nigeria vs Japan
Date: Friday, 5 August – 2am
Venue: Amazônia Arena
Sweden vs Nigeria
Date: Sunday, 7 August – 11pm
Venue: Amazônia Arena
Colombia vs Nigeria
Date: Wednesday, 10 August – 11pm
Venue: Corinthians Arena
City: Sao Paulo
Watch out for assistant team captain Okechukwu who was named the best player at the U-23 nations cup. This is the biggest stage for him and he is expected to be the fulcrum of the team once more.
Mikel will no doubt bring his wealth of experience in midfield while Akpeyi, who now plies his trade in South Africa, has been drafted in to provide solid cover in goal.
Forwards Ajayi Oluwafemi and Etebo Oghenekaro are also set to play key roles in the team’s attack.
Coach – Samson Siasia
Siasia is no stranger to age-grade competitions after leading different Nigerian football teams to 2nd place finishes at the Holland 2005 U-20 World Cup and the Olympic games in Beijing eight years ago.
The 48-year-old will be keen to finally win the top prize and somewhat repair his damaged reputation after he was fired as Super Eagles Boss in 2011 with Nigeria failing to qualify for the 2012 African Cup of Nations under his watch.
This is Nigeria’s 7th appearance in the football event at the Olympics and they are first African team to have won the Gold Medal after famous wins over Brazil and Argentina 20 years ago at the Atlanta games.
The Dream Team IV came close in 2008 but ultimately fell short after Angel Di Maria’s second half strike claimed victory for the Albicelestes. The Dream Team V failed to qualify for the London Olympics after they crashed out of the 2011 CAF U-23 Championships at the group stages.
Nigeria’s preparations for this tournament has been very shoddy and the team’s performances in pre-tournament friendlies has not been very inspiring.
As earlier mentioned, the team is still stuck at their US training camp with less than 36 hours to their opening match against Japan, and this doesn’t bode well for the team’s chances.
Nonetheless, the group stage looks negotiable but they may face Brazil in the Quarterfinals which could be a tough ask for Siasia’s men.
Photo Credit: Espnfc.com