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Nigerian Olympians back U-23 Eagles to scale Libyan hurdle in return fixture

Some members Nigerian Olympians have thrown their weight behind the present squad of the national U-23 national team to bounce back from their 0-2 loss…

Some members Nigerian Olympians have thrown their weight behind the present squad of the national U-23 national team to bounce back from their 0-2 loss to Libya to qualify for the 2019 U-23 AFCON in Egypt.

The 2019 AFCON U-23 championship to be staged in Egypt later in the year also doubles as qualifiers for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. Nigeria won the first edition of the U-23 AFCON in Senegal in 2016.

However, the Olympic Eagles as the national U-23 team is called, on Wednesday at Stade de Ben Guerdane in Tunisia, began their title defence and journey to Tokyo on a shaky note, leaving their teeming fans to wonder, if they would be able to overcome their opponents in the return fixture on Tuesday in Asaba, Delta State.

The loss to Libya came to many football fans as a surprise because of the calibre of players that the coach of the team Imama Amapakabo took to Tunisia for the qualification tie. Considering that a former member of the 2016 bronze winning team, Okechukwu Azubuike and at least four members of the 2013 and 2015 victorious golden Eaglets made the list, many thought the U-23 team would start their qualifiers on a winning note.

Football analysts have since blamed the team’s loss on poor preparation and over dependence on foreign based players. They have vehemently questioned the decision to dump the home based players who were camped for months, for foreign based players who trained together for only two days before the match in Tunisia.

Such critics argued that having been together for a longer period of time, the local players would have shown more understanding and commitment than their foreign counterparts who played without the necessary cohesion.

For most football fans, the Olympic Eagles have a mountain to climb in the return fixture as they will have to first cancel the two goals deficit before they would think about the goal that will give them the much needed victory.

As difficult as the task may appear, three former members of the National U-23 team who have represented Nigeria at the Olympics in 1996 and 2008, Garba Lawal, Dosu Joseph and Efe Ambrose are optimistic that the present Olympics Eagles will turn the tide against the Libyans in the return fixture.

In a chat with Trust Sports, Coach Garba Lawal of Real Stars of Kaduna who is a member of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics gold winning Dream Team 1 said the squad of 2019 have put themselves under pressure but they will still scale the hurdle before them.

He said the coach of the team should psyche up the players to make them believe more in their individual and collective abilities to do the job against Libya in Asaba.

“As a coach, I know a lot of things will be going through the mind of coach Amapakabo and his players. But they need to calm down and prepare for the return fixture.

“We didn’t watch the match so it is difficult to say exactly what went wrong. Maybe the players didn’t play to instructions or they were not lucky.

“Whether we like it or not, they must play the return leg and anything short of victory will spell doom for the team. The team is right now under pressure so this is the time for the coach to talk to his players.

“He has to make them believe that they too can beat Libya in Nigeria. I remember at Atlanta Olympics, we were three goals down against Brazil. When we entered the dressing room, Coach Bonfrere Jo told us that we too can score three goals against them. And God so kind, we ended up beating Brazil 4-3 to reach the finals.

“I hope the players will calm down and score three or more goals in the return leg which is very possible. We do not need to panic because the damage has been done. What the team need at this moment is our collective support,” said the former Roda JC of Holland player.

Another member of the Atlanta Olympics gold winning squad and former Super Eagles goalkeeper, Dosu Joseph also expressed optimism that the Olympics Eagles will put their acts together to soar above Libya in the return fixture.

The former Julius Berger of Lagos captain said the players assembled by the coach have the quality to deliver to beat Libya but their major undoing in Tunisia was inadequate preparation.

He said the time the pros joined the team in Tunisia was too short for them to build the needed understanding and team spirit.

Dosu, therefore, said  that what the coach needs to do is now to inject more confidence into his players as they prepare to confront Libya in the make or mar match in Asaba.

“I think the team lost the match due to poor preparation. The professionals invited didn’t have enough time to train with the team. I think they trained with the team for only two days.

“This time around they will have the opportunity to train together for at least four days before the return leg in Nigeria. They will definitely play with more understanding.

“We have the boys who can do the job. Most of them have been playing week in week out for their clubs in Europe. And the coaches who are handling them have the prerequisite experience and knowledge to lead the team to victory.

“This is not to say it will be an easy match. We cannot say they are Libyans and we are Nigerians so we can easily overrun them. It does not work that way in modern football.

“It is about 90 minutes. It’s a game on field of play and not pages of papers. They have advantage going into the match so the pressure is on the Eagles. We need to cancel the goals before we would be asking for the winning goals.

“So it won’t be an easy match but if given the necessary motivation, I believe the boys will surely pay back the Libyans in their own coin,” said Dosu Joseph.

Speaking in the same vein, Efe Ambrose who won an Olympic silver medal with the national U-23 Eagles under Coach Samson Siasia at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing said the squad of 2019 will surely beat Libya in the return leg.

The Derby County of England defender gave this assurance in a chat with totorinews.com.  He said “I saw the result that it was 2-0 against Nigeria. It was very shocking, but that is not the end of the road for the team. I am sure that Nigeria will stop Libya.

“All the team needs is to remain focused. Football is not an easy game and small teams can beat big teams. But I am very sure that Libya will fall mercilessly in Asaba.  Nigerians should support the team to do well,” he said.

Although they have been tipped to win against Libya in the return fixture, the junior Eagles do not need a seer to tell them that they have a herculean task before them and anything victory will end their dream of flying Nigeria’s flag at the 2019 AFCON in Egypt.

It will be recalled that after winning Africa’s first gold medal in football at the 1996 Olympics, the national U-23 Eagles failed to qualify for two editions of the biggest games on earth. They were absent at Athens 2004 and London 2012.


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