Following his team’s surprise 2-1 victory against Zambia to book their place in the 2015 All-Africa Games holding in Congo Brazzavile later in the year, Dream Team coach Samson Siasia is happy he has proved his critics wrong. After a goalless draw in Abuja, the U-23 Eagles shocked their hosts in Lusaka to seal their qualification, and ecstatic Siasia here expresses the belief that his team shall overcome the likes of Senegal, Egypt and Ghana during the competition proper in September…Interview by DAVID MESHIOYE
The Dream Team finally broke the All Africa Games jinx, after 12 years since Nigeria last hosted it. Did you see this coming?
Honestly, I am surprised that Nigerians did not even see it as something special in all ramifications; here is a country that last featured at COJA 2003, which she hosted. Nigeria has not qualified for 12 years now, but we just broke the jinx and nobody is talking about it. I know Nigerians didn’t give us any chance of making it to the All Africa Games. I am happy we proved our critics wrong and I really thank those who stood solidly behind the team.
A school of thought still believes SIA 1 has the magic wand to do the unthinkable after Zambia earned a goalless draw in the first leg. What was the key to that success in Lusaka?
All I know is that a lot of people did not give us any chance of qualifying after the first-leg result. From all indications, the boys played well but the goals refused to come. What we did was to work on our defence so the Zambians could not score too. But instead of encouraging the team ahead of the second-leg, people just wrote us off. To start with, I know that my team scored well away from home, we have scored nothing less than four goals, so I was optimistic the goals will come in Lusaka. I thought we will be home and dry once we can get a goal or two. Thank God, it went well and we are already looking forward to the task ahead. It was very hard for us in Lusaka but our functional training coupled with pep talks saw us through. I really thank the players for making us smile at the end of the day.
There is still much to be done considering the dwindling fortunes of Nigerian football at the All Africa Games in the past. Can this team win gold in Congo Brazzaville?
I think the first major thing is to qualify first which we’ve already done, that is the most important thing. All we need to do now is return to serious business after our one month break. We are going to Congo to win and not make up the numbers. The essence of qualification is not just to participate but win it and we will work hard to achieve that.
What are the immediate challenges facing the team right now which you think should be checkmated as you prepare for the Games?
Honestly, the players went through a lot during the qualifiers. The elections really affected our preparations with money not coming from any source even though the team was camped in Abuja. The Sports Commission and the FA did their best to ensure the teams qualify. We hope that we will get our preparations underway now that the elections are over. We have to focus and prepare hard if really we want to win the football gold. It is going to be a very tough All-Africa Games.
Nigeria has been grouped alongside Senegal, Egypt and Ghana.
Yeah, the group is a tough one but I think all what we need do now is play our part by preparing adequately for the Games. We still have about four months before the All-Africa Games begin. As for our opponents; we will spy on them and get their match footages ready. We want to see how these teams play, their strengths and weak areas. There are no small teams in Africa anymore; Nigeria will be ready for the challenge. Once we return from our one month break, new players will be brought into the team especially from the U-20, and then we will be ready to do Nigerians proud.
Talking about good players, is Kelechi Iheanacho still part of your plans?
(Pauses) Well, I don’t know, honestly I don’t know now but we still have to bring in good players from the U-20 and integrate them into the Dream Team. We will look into areas we are deficient and bring in the right players to fill that void. For me, I cannot tell you these are the players we will be bringing into the team. We will see how it goes.
Looking at the Dream Team from all departments, which grey areas would you really say need a turnaround?
Grey areas? Can we really work on the team when the funds are not forthcoming? The Sports Commission cannot do anything if no funds are released to them. We must not forget that sports remain Nigeria’s no.1 unifying factor. I really have to thank Mr. President for his support during the qualifiers. As we usher in the new president, it is important we have the right Minister in place to administer sports in this country. I mean we need someone who knows what it means to manage sports, we have to move sports forward. The age grade teams need full support if Nigerians really want results and the government must rise up to their needs.
What department of your team would you like to see improvements in?
All departments of course! The task ahead of us is huge and demanding. We just have to keep looking for good players that will help strengthen the team before the All Africa Games. There is room for improvement and that is exactly what we intend doing. My door is not shut to good players once they have the right requirements. As I said before, we will resume and look into areas the team is deficient and then bring in the right player to fill that vacuum.
Are you worried that Super Eagles are like sheep without a shepherd at the moment? What is your take on AFCON 2017 qualifiers draw that has Nigeria, Egypt, Tanzania and Chad in the same group?
I don’t think it is a bad group by all indications. I don’t expect Nigeria to find it hard qualifying from that group if we know what we are doing. Apart from Egypt that usually gives us a good run for our money, other teams in the group won’t be walkovers but can be beaten if we prepare adequately . But we need to start our preparations early; looking at the kind of players we want to use. The truth is do we really have a team right now? A lot still needs to be done in that team if Nigeria want to qualify for 2017 AFCON. What we need now are early preparations and using the right caliber of players to prosecute those matches.
Thank you for your time