Duro Ikhazuagbe in Sao Paolo
Nigeria’s march to another football glory will get further boost this evening at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, Brazil when the Under-23 Team takes on Germany for a place in the gold medal match on Saturday.
Coach Samson Siasia and his wards have come against all odds to get this far in the men’s Olympic football here in Brazil. Just like the class of 1996 that won the gold for Africa for the first time, history is about to be rewritten as the John Mikel Obi led squad file out against the Germans. Yet, this was the same team that left Nigeria like orphans for a training tour of Atlanta.
The story of how they were left stranded in Atlanta because money was not remitted for their flight to Brazil from Abuja is no longer news. But the Never-Say-Die Nigerian spirit has continued to be the driving motivation for the boys.
They arrived Manaus, venue of their opening Group B game against Japan barely five hours to kick off yet surmounted all odds to pick maximum points.
The next game against Sweden appeared easier. Having rested enough from the fatigue of three-day going back and forth at the Atlanta Airport, Mikel led his colleagues to consolidate at the top of the group on six points with the 1-0 defeat of Sweden.
The last game against Colombia was not necessary so Siasia gambled, playing those who have not tested action in the first two games. The loss to Colombia had no collateral damage on the team but was suffice to let Siasia who is aiming to go past the silver he won at Beijing 2008 know the quality of his reserve bench.
Of course, the quarter final clash with Denmark was never going to be a stroll in the park for Nigeria as the Danes had similarly shown flashes of quality in their group battles. Goals from captain John Mikel Obi and Aminu Umar however steered the African champion for today’s semi final battle with Germany.
Will the Never-Say-Die spirit continue to steer the Nigerian dream of an encore even in the face of a great opposition like Germany?
Hrubesch Horst’s side reached the semi final dispatching highly rated Portugal 4-0 in the quarter final. Unlike the Nigerian team, Germany has not lost a game in this tournament.
How Siasia is going to be able to seal his leaking defence line to prevent Germany’s star player, Serge Gnabry, from causing havoc is going to determine how far the Nigerian Under-23 lads can go this evening in reaching the final.
Gnabry who plays in the wing for Arsenal in the English Premier League has scored in each of the four matches played by Germany and is leading the scorers sheet on six goals.
Meanwhile one of the footballers ordered home from the Rio Olympics has lamented how they were thrown out of the team’s hotel and had to spend their own money to pay for the two nights they spent in Brazil thereafter before they flew out to Nigeria.
Cash-strapped Sports Ministry officials Nigeria authorities ordered two alternate players Stanley Dimgba and Yusuf Mohammed as well as several officials to head home because they could no longer pay their way.
“God will fight my fight for me. It was heart-breaking when we were told to quit the team’s hotel in Sao Paulo,” said the player, who did not want to be identified.
“When you returned to Sao Paulo (from Salvador)they gave rooms to only the 18 players registered for the competition and even some team officials did not get hotel rooms too.
“For the two extra nights we spent in Brazil, we had to pay with our own money for our hotel and feeding.
“That is life for you.”