The Nigerian U23 Eagles on Sunday held Congo to a goalless draw in Pointe Noire to qualify for the CAF U23 Championship on 2-1 aggregate win. The Championship which will be hosted by Senegal in December, will serve as the qualifiers for the football event of the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Completesportsnigeria.com’s IZUCHUKWU OKOSI takes a look at the five (5) contrasting lessons learned from the U23 Eagles’ hard-earned qualification for the CAF U23 Championship.
1. Team’s Mental Fortitude Is Key In Difficult Situations
The Dream Team XI could only defeat Claude Leroy’s team 2-1 in the first leg two weeks ago. The scoreline could have been better for the Nigerian team, but they lost several scoring chances which ordinarily would put a team under pressure going into the second leg.
However Samson Siasia’s team held their nerves to the end of the game in Pointe Noire on Sunday.
The team’s defensive discipline surely made this draw a very precious one. If they had they gone gung-ho in search of goals, Congo could have punished them at the back.
Team captain Azubuike Okechukwu was confident the team would not be under pressure in the game in Pointe Noire when he spoke to Completesportsnigeria.com following the narrow 2-1 advantage. The team leader on the evidence of Sunday’s result, was indeed right.
2. U23 Eagles Need To Improve Attacking Potency
The Nigerian side won the first leg 2-1, losing several scoring chances. The second leg would have been a lot easier if they had converted most of those chances.
Junior Ajayi scored the brace that ensured victory but he was also guilty of not converting the numerous chances created by his team-mates.
Samson Siasia needs to ensure this aspect of the team’s game is worked on.
The work doesn’t necessarily have to be change of personnel, though that could be a factor.
The art of converting chances into goals should be worked on in the team’s training sessions. In some situations , in the first leg, the players wanted to work the ball inside the net or simply blazed the ball off target.
3. There Is No Room For Complacency Against Any Opponent.
The U23 Eagles 2-1 win in the first leg wasn’t a humbling one to the Congolese, a formidable side which instead gained so much hope for the second leg.
Thankfully, the Nigerians escaped being made to pay for their profligacy in the first leg.
Congo gave the Dream Team XI all sorts of problems in the first leg. And although the Congo team could not manage to score a decisive goal at home, their team were not bad.
There are no perfect teams, but there are perfect results which can only be achieved in today’s football by respecting your opponents and having the right tactical plans.
Samson Siasia and his troops may have escaped Congo, but they must realise that teams with similar strengths await them in Senegal.
4. The U23s Have Enhanced Their Super Eagles Chances
Though the ultimate target is to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janiero, some of the U23 Eagles stars stand the chance of earning invitations to the senior national team, the Super Eagles.
Sunday Oliseh, the new coach of the Eagles has made it clear that he could have age-grade players that are of top quality in the national team. This means that the distinctive performances of some of the Dream Team’s players will not go unnoticed.
5. Opportunity To Win The Allegiance Of Nigerian-Born Rising Stars In The Diaspora
There are many Nigerian-born footballers born mainly in Europe who are undecided pondering about their international football.
These unheralded youngsters could well decide to play for Nigeria at the Olympics if they are invited by Samson Siasia.
Discovering these gems is the job of the technical crew and the Nigeria Football Federation.
Samson Siasia, surely, have the core of his team who have struck some cohesion but there could be a few players of Nigerian descent who will improve his team considerably.
This new found zeal to play for Nigeria might even extend to the other national teams.
The feat achieved by the Nigerian U23 side in Atlanta in 1996 is massive inspiration for the younger generation and must be tapped into. A team cannot have too much of quality.
Siasia came close to winning the Olympics gold in 2008 when he led the Nigerian team to a second-place finish. Going one better in 2016 must be his objective and he needs the best talents available to him to fulfil that dream.