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Road To Rio Olympics


2016_Summer_Olympics_logoBY publicly admitting the deficiencies of his Dream Team IV soccer team, Coach Samson Siasia may have taken the very first step to preventing a disastrous outing for Nigeria at the 2016 Olympic next year. For, although the country secured her place in the football event of the 2016 Olympic Games, it was at a cost in the last CAF U-23 African championships in Senegal. The age grade soccer team – Dream Team IV – eventually picked the winner’s trophy and individual medals and also emerged as one of three African representatives at the coming global showpiece. But the team is still largely wobbly, and lacking the confidence and charisma expected of an Olympic team. The Nigerian Dream Team of 1996 that won the Gold Medal in that year’s Olympic readily comes to mind.

Coach Siasia still has a few months to shape up his team; he must be under no illusion that the work ahead is paltry.

The road to winning the gold medal in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, next August will certainly be tougher and rougher. Having been on that road before, leading a different set of boys, Coach Samson Siasia knows that the global tournament is not a tea party and that he needs a crop of skilful and fit players that can stand up against the best on the world stage.

Going by the normal expectations of Nigerian, it is unacceptable for the soccer team to go to Rio only to make up the numbers. Nonetheless, such scenario is a possibility if the coach fails to polish further the team he presented at the continental competition where deficiencies in many departments of the game became too obvious to gloss over. It is as well that Siasia has pledged to work on shortcomings.

From the first two encounters in Senegal with their Malian and Egyptian counterparts in the group stage, one major deficiency was manifest: loss of concentration and the lack of capacity to absorb pressure from opposition. Second half displays are shaky and unconvincing, almost exasperating fans; and it is with more than a bit of luck that the team berthed at the final. Even the coach attributed their survival to a miracle.

Clearly it is not yet a done deal. The preparation appeared short on projections. “We had to manage everything from kits to what have you, for the past one year. Motivating the boys was not easy at all; it was tough but we survived it,” said Siasia. That is the crux of the matter – the beginning of failure. It ought not to be, but such has always been the story of the country’s sports ambassadors over time. It is unacceptable.

The build-up to Senegal was uninspiring and this is regrettable. The country must begin to feel the atmosphere of change also in the sector. Sports minister Solomon Dalong has given his word on government’s support on preparations. That would be crucial to any success envisaged in Rio. There is no cause yet to doubt his claim. Even then, all sports must be beneficiaries of his pledge and commitment, not only football.

Nigeria’s best outing was in 1996 at the Atlanta Olympics where the U-23 side got the gold after brushing aside strong contenders like Brazil and Argentina. It came close to repeating the feat in 2008 but ended up with a silver decoration, behind ultimate winners Argentina. It is not too much to dream gold again for the country.

The managers are optimistic; it is a starting point because the other countries’ managers are equally filled with optimism. Siasia believes Nigeria can surpass the Beijing 2008 Olympics. His experience with the youth sides in the past years will be vital for the country in Brazil. However, solid preparation is the key apart from other variables that might come to play like having favourable draws, and solid administrative and management support.

The players would need a dose of courage, determination, focus dedication, skills (football artistry), confidence on the field of play and necessary support from government. Many of them from the local league are already being given the opportunity they crave for and to defend the confidence Siasia reposes in them. They cannot fail to showcase the stuff they are made of wearing the national colours which should be the motivating factor. Nothing surpasses the privilege of being one’s country’s ambassador in sports. The Rio Games may be the defining point in their individual careers.

Eight months is reasonable enough time to make the difference. Let Dream Team VI begin to seize the time. More significantly, football is a potent rallying factor in Nigeria’s unity. The players and the managers should make Nigerians proud again, like the Under-17 lads did in Chile a while ago.

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