‘No dream in this Dream Team’
Whoever coined the name ‘Dream Team’ for the current set of Nigeria’s Olympic football team did a disservice to the glorious gold winning class led by Kanu Nwankwo.
In that team were such iconic footballers like Kanu, Austin Jay Jay Okocha, Uche Okechukwu, Celestine Babayaro, Daniel Amokachi, Taribo West, Sunday Oliseh, Emmanuel Amunike, Tijani Babangida, Dosu Joseph, Mobi Oparaku and Victor Ikpeba, to mention but a few.
They had class and a professional attitude that is associated with top class athletes. With that team no battle was lost until the last minute. Brazil learnt that the bitter way in the semifinals of the Atlanta 1996 games. That was a competition every neutral observer qualified as the most competitive football event in the history of the Olympics.
All the players that featured in the semifinals of that competition for Argentina, Brazil and Nigeria went on to make their marks at the highest level of club football.
The Brazil side beaten 4-3 by Nigeria had such stars, who later went on to win the World Cup in 2002, as Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, Ze Maria, Juninho and Dida, among others. Argentina had Hernan Crespo, Veron, Javier Zanetti, Claudio Lopez, Diego Simeone, Ariel Ortega, and Matias Almeyda, among others.
At the end of the day, Nigeria ran away with the gold medal in a very convincing way. The team, the original ‘Dream Team,’ came from 3-1 down to beat Brazil in the semifinals and won the gold medal with a 3-2 defeat of Argentina.
Ever since that victory, every subsequent Nigerian side has been called ‘Dream Team’ no manner how mediocre it is. The closest to the 1996 squad was the 2008 team, which won the silver medal after a 2-1 defeat by Argentina in the final.
In that team were future Super Eagles stars like Chinedu Obasi, Taiye Taiwo, Victor Anichebe, Osaze Odemwingie, Obinna Nsofor, Onyekachi Apam and Chibuzor Okonkwo, among others. They later had relative successes in the senior national team.
Back to 2016. Nigerians had high hopes of the current national U-23 team going by the number of quality stars available for selection. These players include Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Simon Moses, Isaac Success, Taiwo Awoniyi and Dimgba Igwe.
However, the team was crippled by the last minute refusal by European clubs to allow their players, including Iwobi, Iheanacho and Moses to play at the Olympics.
The team selectors did not help matters as they inexplicably left out quality players for some who had no business being in the national U-23 team set up. A player like Isaac Success was not reckoned with by the selectors right from the onset, while Kingsley Sokari was dropped due to an alleged disciplinary issue.
The defects in the team were papered by the success at the African U-23 Championship hosted by Senegal. But followers of the team knew that it was only a matter of time before the walls would crack.
That the team got to the semifinals of Brazil 2016 Olympic Games came to many as a surprise because in quality of play and individual talent, only about five of the players acquitted themselves creditably. The first time the Nigerian team met a tactically aware team in Colombia, they crumbled 2-0. Some pundits put it down to the fact that the team had already qualified and so did not put much effort in the game.
The team defeated Denmark 2-0 to make the semifinals, but they promptly capitulated when they met a well-grilled German team on Wednesday. It was the end of the dream or ‘nightmare,’ as veteran journalist, Mitchell Obi, captured the performance of the Nigerian team in this competition.
According to Obi, who is the president AIPS-Africa, “Nigeria has been living in miracles since day one of the competition. The team has players, who do not know when to release the ball and when to run into space.
“If a striker cannot take on defenders and unsettle them then he has no business being in the team. Right from day one, this team did not show the stuff champions are made of. This is not a championship winning side.”
Group Sports Editor of The Nation, Ade Ojeikhere, simply said: “There is no dream in this team.”
He posits that Nigeria will continue to stutter until the coaches dropped their mercantilist attitude to team selection.
“Some of these players have no business playing for Nigeria. Tell me how strikers like Taiwo Awoniyi and Isaac Success are not in this team.
“We scored eight goals and conceded eight. That is the story of our team, good attack, poor defence. It took the coaches 70 minutes to know that Sadiq Umar needed to be changed. He should have been changed after missing the free gift from the German goalkeeper. He should have toe poked the ball to Mikel and we would have been fighting from a 1-1 scoreline. We need to do the right things to get it right when it matters most.”
To Team Coach, Samson Siasia, the 0-2 loss to Germany was not down to wrong personnel. Rather, the players chose a wrong time to go to sleep.
He said: “I don’t know what happened to my boys. We have no business thinking of beating Germany with such a terrible performance. It would have been worse if we had qualified like this and met Brazil in the final.
“You can see from their countenance that all was not well with them. I was disturbed. I didn’t have to tell the players that they should prepare for such an important game. They are professionals.”
Siasia said external influences could have contributed to the poor play, saying that some of the players lacked the discipline to maintain the level needed for success in a championship as tough as the Olympics.
“We didn’t see Imoh Ezekiel in the game. This is the same lad that created panic in the opponents’ attack each time he had the ball. He was looking tired and did not take on defenders even once.
“Look at the free kick Amuzie ballooned out of the field when we needed a goal. It was more like a penalty and he chose to play it away. Does it make sense? He is the same guy that has been scoring from such positions.
“At this stage of the competition, you must be very calculative in everything you do. We just have to get ourselves together and prepare for the bronze medal match. We will psyche the boys up so that we win the third place because it is better to go home with the bronze than empty handed.”
Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, sees Nigeria’s defeat as a wake up call that will push the team to win the bronze medal.
He said: “Football is all about winning and losing. All we need to do is to go back and look at the numerous mistakes that cost us the game. In a world competition, it is not only about winning, but also the way we exhibited our brand of football. We failed ourselves here.
“But there is no doubt that the world will see Nigeria as among the best in 2016 because of our position in the Olympics football event. Now, as professionals, the boys need to dust themselves up to play for a win the next match.”