Ex-Super Eagles star, Etim Esin, says he is impressed with the performance of the U-23 Eagles at the CAF U-23 Africa Cup of Nations in Senegal as he charges the coach Samson Siasia led team to go for the trophy when they meet Algeria in Saturday’s final.
In this interview with BAMIDELE BOLUWAJI, Esin tips the team to shine at the Rio Olympic while advising the coaching crew to take good care of the defence…
How impressed are you about the Nigerian performance at the CAF U-23 African Cup of Nations in Senegal?
I am really impressed and it was a good performance from the boys even when nobody thought they could do it. Getting the Olympic ticket is not easy but they worked so hard to make sure they qualified for the Olympics and also qualify for the final where they will play Algeria. Over all, I will say it was an excellent performance by the players compared to the previous games they have played in the tournament.
Did you at any time before the semi-final match give the team any chance of winning the match?
I will say yes and no because in any major tournament like this, it is always difficult to play the host nation and if you look at the massive support the Senegalese have been getting from their people, it would be difficult to believe they could lose the match in front of their supporters.
And on the apart of the Nigerian team, I know Samson as somebody who has the magic to change things when you feel it is all over. He has been to the Olympics before and we all know how he performed there, so I had that belief that we were not going to be disgraced and fortunately, we won which was a good one for the team.
From what you have seen in the team, what can you point out as their strength?
What I see as the strength of the team is unity, even when they were not playing to our expectation, the unity was still there in the team and it has really helped them a lot. Aside from their first game, the other two games were not too impressive but they remained together till they qualified for the semi-final. The unity in the team has given the players mental strength to continue the fight till they made it to the final and I also see it helping them in the final.
Nigeria will be meeting Algeria again in the final, what are you looking forward to after a goalless draw in their first meeting in Senegal?
Definitely, a winner must emerge this time around and I want to state here that it is going to be a final that is really worth it, both sides have met before and they are not new to each other and so we should be expecting tough game that could go either way but with the determination in the Nigerian team, I see them winning.
Which area in the team do you think has not really lived up to expectation since the commencement of the U-23 Africa Cup of Nations in Senegal?
The defence has not really impressed me but we saw an improvement against Senegal which is good for the team.Conceding three goals in a match showed that the defenders have not done enough to protect the goalkeeper or prevent the opponents from coming to score against them but I hope it will still improve when they play Algeria.
Looking at the Algeria you saw against South Africa in the second semi-final match played on Wednesday, do you think Nigeria have what it takes to stop them?
Like I said earlier, it’s not going to be business as usual, just as we saw the Nigerian team improve against their previous games, so the Algerians and that is why I said the match is going to be very tough and in a match like that, our boys have to be very careful and make good use of their opportunities.
I know that we have a team that can beat the Algerians but we must avoid some silly mistakes and those are the things I expected Samson Siasia to have worked on before the match against Algeria.
After the Olympic ticket, what do you think should be the priority of Samson Siasia and his boys in the tournament?
Well, I don’t know what the NFF told them but as a Nigerian, I want to see a situation where by they beat Algeria to win the trophy because that is the next thing Nigerians are expecting from the team and they must not disappoint.
With what they have done in Senegal so far, do you thing Nigeria already has a team that can shine at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil?
After this championship, I think Samson Siasia should be given all the support he needs to start preparation on time and luckily for him, Olympics is recognized by all federations so I am sure he will get the services of all the players he needs for the Olympics. Definitely, he needs to work on the team to make sure there is improvement before the Olympics which means few players would have to come into the team to make it stronger.
How far do you think this team can go in Rio?
Well, we have not seen our opponents but with the experience Siasia has had in the Olympics, leading Nigeria to silver in China in 2008, I am sure that he can lead Nigeria to win the gold in Rio. But like I said, the NFF must not toy with his programme and he must be given all the support he needs in the area of preparation.
Who has impressed you most in the team?
Well, all the players are doing well but I think the goalkeeper has shown that he can’t give up in any situation; I am impressed with his performance.
Away from the U-23 Nations Cup, Nigeria’s Home Eagles will be Rwanda next year for the CHAN tournament, what is your view about the country’s participation in the tournament?
It is good for us as a nation because it will help us to discover talents from the domestic league and it will also help the coaches to know the strength of the players before they graduate to the main Eagles. Tournaments like this shouldn’t be seen as must win but a way through which we can develop our players.
The year is getting to an end, how will you rate Nigerian football in the outgoing year?
Well, it has been a case of 50-50, this is because our national team, the Super Eagles, played some games that almost gave us heart attack but the U-17 team came on board to erase that, coupled with the Olympic ticket we just got in Senegal, but I believe we can do more in the New Year. Our FIFA ranking has been very poor which does not speak well of our football but with more efforts next year, I hope there will be improvement.