The football tournament of the 2016 Rio Olympics will begin on August 4 with Nigeria set to face Japan, Sweden and Colombia in Group B.
Teams have the chance to pick three over-aged players for the tournament and of course players born as from January 1, 1993.
Surely form, fitness, clubs’ willingness to let their players go as it is outside of the FIFA calendar, and players’ commitment will all be factors for team selection.
Completesportsnigeria.com’s IZUCHUKWU OKOSI takes a look at the players Nigeria are likely to battle against at the Olympics in Brazil…
Japan are one of Nigeria’s Group B opponents at the football tournaments of the 2016 Rio Olympics. In fact Samson Siasia and his team will face Japan in their first game in Rio on August 4 at the Amazonia Arena in Manaus.
Three over-aged players are expected to make the side stronger and predictably are players that have been instrumental in their clubs’ progress in Europe.
SHINJI OKAZAKI (Leicester, England)
The Leicester City forward could be one of the over-aged players to play for Japan at this year’s Olympics.
Okazaki represented Japan at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, as one of the U-23 players.
Now he could make his second appearance at the Games and face the Nigerian defence on August 4 owing to his phenomenal form for the Foxes this season which sees them at the cusp of a Premier League title.
Okazaki will bring leadership and fear factor into the Japanese team. His average shot per game is 1.3% and his industry and commitment could take Japan far at the Olympics.
SHINJI KAGAWA (Dortmund, Germany)
Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa is predictably one of the players that will be under the radar for a place in the Japanese squad to the Olympics.
The former Manchester United star’s creativity will be key for the Blues if selected for the Olympics.
Kagawa has proven to be the third most creative player for Dortmund so far this season with six assists in 22 games, with seven goals to boot.
Samson Siasia’s midfielders could come up against Kagawa who will be a very tough customer if he is selected as expected.
MAYA YOSHIDA (Southampton, England)
Players’ statistics don’t tell the whole story about what to expect at football tournaments but Maya Yoshida has made an average tackle of 0.7% per game, 1.6% interceptions and 3.4% clearances. His average blocks per game is 0.5 so far.
Should Yoshida be picked for Japan’s squad for the Olympics, he could come face-to-face against Nigeria’s Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and possibly the duo of Odion Ighalo and Mikel Obi whom he has at one time or the other confronted in the English Premier League.
Sweden qualified for the Rio Olympics after winning the 2015 UEFA European U-21 Championship in Czech Republic.
ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC (PSG, France)
Paris Saint Germain’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic is under the consideration of the Sweden FA for a place in the country’s team to the football tournament of the Rio Olympics.
Coach Hakan Ericson will hope Ibrahimovic’s uncertainty over his future as per club football will work in his favour and let the striker travel with the team to Brazil.
“I hope to use over-age players and I hope that Zlatan will be available, but it depends on the European Championships. If he is available, I want him to play for us,” Ericson is quoted as saying by FIFA.com.
Samson Siasia may not like the sound of that but it will be tantalising prospect for fans all over the world.
Ibrahimovic has represented Sweden at the U-18 and U-21 levels but the Olympics is missing from the dreaded striker’s rich CV.
The contributions the superstar can make in the Swedish team are enormous. He has scored 32 of PSG’s 88 goals so far this season, making a 36% contribution in the goals netted by the Paris billionaires.
JOHN GUIDETTI (Celta Vigo, Spain)
Sweden qualified for the Olympics and striker John Guidetti was instrumental in his country’s run at the U-21 Championship.
Now 24 years-old, the Celta Vigo striker who has represented Sweden in the U-17 and U-19 levels scored two goals in Czech Republic plus a penalty in the 4-3 shootout win against Portugal in the final.
The former Manchester City and Stoke City starlet is almost certain of getting the nod to be in the team as he has played with a number of the players still within the age range.
Guidetti is the third top scorer for Celta Vigo this season with seven goals and his attacking instincts could be key to how Sweden progress in Rio.
MARTIN OLSSON (Norwich, England)
Martin Olsson could be called up by Sweden due to his ability in a number of positions on the field.
The 27-year-old can play as a left back, a left-sided winger and as a forward. He has scored one goal for his club and had two assists.
Olsson’s pass success percentage of 63.5 shows how efficient he can be in making things happen for his team, club or country.
Sweden have other over-aged players they can call upon like Ola Toivonen (Sunderland), Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Swansea), Seb Larsson (Sunderland)
Joel Ekstrand (Watford), Jonas Olsson (West Brom).
JAMES RODRIGUEZ (Real Madrid, Spain)
Colombia have always produced great football players especially in the midfield and attacking positions.
Names such as Faustino Asprilla, Carlos Valderama and (yes) Radamel Falcao readily come to mind.
Colombia edged out USA in the play-offs to reach the Rio Olympics and Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez who had a great outing at the 2014 World Cup, incidentally in Brazil could face Nigeria as one of the over-aged players in Rio.
Rodriguez has faced Nigeria at youth level before. He was in the Colombian U-17 team that lost 2-1 to Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets coached by the late Yemi Tella in the Round of 16 of the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup at the Gwang-Yang Stadium, Gwangyang, South Korea on August 30, 2007.
Nigeria won the U-17 World Cup for the third time then.
One of Rodriguez’s Olympics wishes could well be a chance to avenge that defeat to Nigeria nine years ago at the U-17 level.
The Real Madrid star is expected to take part in the Copa America to be staged in USA in June but perhaps the month of July will offer ample rest period for his exertions before flying to Rio to face Nigeria on August 10.
RADAMEL FALCAO (Chelsea, England)
On-loan Chelsea striker Radamel Falcao was one of football’s most dreaded strikers until a cruel injury stopped him from representing Colombia at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Ever since that unfortunate setback, the career of the AS Monaco star who had previously played for Porto and Atletico Madrid has suffered.
Not many coaches will really want to take the gambles Man United and Chelsea took so a participation at the 2016 Olympics (his place in the Colombian side for the Copa America in June is doubtful) will be a good avenue for Falcao to relaunch his career.
The striker has reportedly made his intention of playing in Rio known and his chances of being selected are high since he will most possibly not be top choice striker (just yet) for any of the big clubs across Europe.
DAVID OSPINA (Arsenal, England)
David Ospina has continued to divide opinion in England.
The goalkeeper is rated high by some fans who fell in love with his performance at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
For some though, the jury is still out for him. At the moment, Czech Republic’s Petr Cech is Arsenal’s first choice goalkeeper and there have been rumours that manager Arsene Wenger could let Ospina leave in the summer so that Wojciech Sczeszny could return from his loan spell at AS Roma.
So a participation at the Rio Olympics and eventually possibly facing the likes of Odion Ighalo (likely to be one of Nigeria’s three over-aged players) who scored against him in Watford’s 2-1 win against the holders Arsenal in the quarter finals stage of the FA Cup in England on March 13 is possible.