By Sulaiman Alao:
NIGERIA’S U-23 team’s quest for the football gold medal at the ongoing 2016 Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, came to an end after Germany deservedly ran away 2-0 winners in the semi final game played on Wednesday. The efficient German team gave the Olympic Eagles a rude awakening with their superior technical ability that glaringly exposed the soft underbelly of the Nigerian side, who struggled all day to contain the fluid passing, individual brilliance and pace of the European side who dominated the game in every department while attacking the African side at will.
For Nigeria, it was a fairy-tale dream from the start but the reality has dawned on us yet again that Olympic gold medals are not won on a platter of wishful thinking and lack of planning while hoping for ‘prayers and fasting’ to bail us out when the chips are down. A realistic chance of winning gold medals at the Olympics is based on meticulous planning and hard work, after which one can then hope for the element of luck to crown your efforts having done your homework well. Heaven they say, helps those who help themselves.
Nothing but patriotism made many of us nurse the ambition that we could re-enact the Atlanta ‘96 triumph that saw Nigeria win the football gold medal 20 years ago. A critical look at the 1996 team compared to the present squad reveals that there is a massive difference in quality between both squads.
The ‘96 squad was made up of more skillful and experienced players which includes the likes of Nwankwo Kanu, Austin Okocha, Daniel Amokachi, Emmanuel Amuneke, Sunday Oliseh, Victor Ikpeba, Garba Lawal, Wilson Oruma, Tijani Babangida, Uche Okechukwu, Taribo West, Celestine Babayaro and others. The 96 squad was truly a Dream Team as most members of the team were already established players in the Super Eagles back then.
The same cannot be said of the current squad where only Mikel Obi is the only established player already in the senior national team while the likes of Etebor, Ezekiel Imoh and a few others are still on the fringes. The current Mikel-captained team does not even measure up in terms of quality to the squad that won silver at the Beijing 2008 Olympics Games. Then, players like Osaze Odemwingie, Victor Anichebe, Obinna Nsofor, Sani Kaita, Chinedu Obasi, Efe Ambrose, Onyekachi Apam, Dele Adeleye, Adefemi Olubayo (now late), Isaac Promise and Oluwafemi Ajilore were to a large extent, established players in the senior national team prior to the Beijing Games.
To expect a squad devoid of real quality and lacking in sound preparations to attain the achievements of better quality squads is simply mischievous, irrational and not in tune with reality. Of the current squad, only Mikel would have measured up to be part of the Atlanta 1996 and the Beijing 2008. And while Mikel would have strolled into the starting line-up for the Beijing ‘08 team, the Chelsea star would have struggled for a starting shirt in the Atlanta ‘96 team. In retrospect however, coach Samson Siasia will rue his mistake of not exploring and making the best of the opportunity to have 3 over-aged players allowed for the Games.
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While some have blamed the loss to Germany on the absence of the duo of Oghenekaro Etebo and Azubuike Okechukwu in the game, I sincerely do not think their presence would have made a huge difference to win the game for Nigeria as the German side while not lacking individually skillful players like Serge Gnabry, Max Meyer, Nils Peterson and the Bender brothers Lars and Sven played as a more cohesive team than their opponents. It was very obvious that the Germans were the better and organized team that left nothing to chance in terms of preparation unlike the Nigerian team whose preparation we all know amounts to nothing but scandal.
Now instead of facing host team Brazil in the final, Nigeria will take on Honduras in the third place battle and dare I say we already have the bronze medal in the bag. A Honduras side that Brazil trashed 6-0 should definitely not be a match for Nigeria. Brazil on the other hand are in for a big showdown against the Germans and I bet football lovers are going to witness a cracking final. May the best side win.
Coach Siasia has done his best under the circumstance. Captain Mikel and the rest of the players have done their best too. There is no need for Nigerians to cry for gold, a bronze medal will be enough.
And that could be our only medal at the Games!