The battle for three slots to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games begins today with hosts Senegal taking on South Africa in the U-23 Africa Nations Cup holding in Senegal.
For the Dream Team VI only a place in the final will guarantee them a place in the football event of the Olympic Games and Coach Samson Siasia knows this. The 21-man squad he selected last Monday gives credence to his ambitions as some key players were asked to go home from the team’s camp in Gambia where they put finishing touches to their preparations.
With hosts Senegal, Egypt, Algeria, South Africa all angling for a place, the Dream Team know that they are in for a war where they must emerge as victors.
The Nigerian side which played a 1-1 draw against the Gambia U-20 team in their last test match from all indications are ready for the rumble as Coach Siasia who is still battling with the kidnap of his mother is not letting it get to his boys so that it does not affect their play.
Former U-20 striker Taiwo Awoniyi will be returning to Senegal where he had helped the Flying Eagles to a successful outing some months back says he will be at his best to help propel the team to victory when the Nigerian side steps on the field of play against Mali in her first game on Sunday.
“Yes Senegal reminds me of a lot,” began the striker, who is on loan from Liverpool to FSV Frankfurt. “I am thankful to God for this opportunity to be part of the squad going for this competition.”
Awoniyi will have support from FIFA U-17 highest goal scorer Victor Osimhen who replaced injured Isaac Success on the squad.
In Coach Siasia’s team are four overseas-based professionals with the rest of the squad drawn from the Nigeria league.
The pros are Awoniyi from German second division side, FSV Frankfurt, Junior Ajayi of Tunisian club CS Sfaxien, success from La Liga side Granada and midfielder Azubuike Okechukwu, who is based in Turkey.
As many as 12 players on this squad were not at the recent All Africa Games in Congo Brazzaville, where Nigeria’s Dream Team VI placed third at the expense of the host team.
They will also battle Egypt on December 2 in Mbour and three days later play their final group B match against Algeria in Dakar.
The South African men’s under-23 national soccer team which jetted off to Senegal on Tuesday to begin their CAF Africa Cup of Nations campaign also have their sights on the Olympic Games.
South Africa head coach Owen da Gama knows there is a lot at stake. The last time South Africa qualified for the Olympic Games was back in 2000 under current Bafana Bafana head coach Shakes Mashaba.
“It is history for us and the players know it. Should things go our way then the players will go down in history as the second South African team to have qualified for the Olympic Games. The fact that we have reached a tournament of the best on the continent already means a lot and is something to smile about.
“We are carrying the national flag and we have to do it for the 52 million South Africans, and these players are proud to be doing that for the nation,” said Da Gama.
“In our last camp the theme was about mental strength. We have prepared them for the worst possible scenario in Senegal. These boys have proven that intimidation does not work with them.
“They are also streetwise because they come from difficult backgrounds and understand all these things. They have played on fields without grass, in extreme heat and anything you can think of. So we just have to go there and compete and do our best,” added Da Gama.
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