The Nigeria U-23 team will be taking a slim 2-1 advantage to Congo in the return leg of their U-23 African Championship qualifier.
Prior to Sunday’s game against Congo, the expectations from football fans was that the game would end in a high scoring margin in favour of Nigeria.
However, the outcome has left only few people with the belief that the Samson Siasia-led side can still pull it off in the return leg.
But if there is one Nigerian team that have what it takes to make the impossible become possible, it is the U-23 Eagles. This is a team that have been involved in make or mar encounters in the past, and have come out unscathed.
And as the team looks ahead to the crucial return leg in Pointe Noire, completesportsnigeria.com’s JAMES AGBEREBI recalls five matches in which Nigeria overcame the odds. He feels this is why the U-23 Eagles stand a chance of upstaging Congo.
KENYA 0-3 NIGERIA: MUMBASA, KENYA (1996 ATLANTA OLYMPIC QUALIFIER)
In 1995, the U-23 Eagles, mostly home-based players, took on Kenya in the first leg first round tie of the qualifiers for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Surprisingly, the Kenyans held Nigeria to a 0-0 draw inside the National Stadium, Lagos. In a bid to avoid the embarassment of being knocked out by less fancied Kenya, a legion of overseas-based players that had the likes of Nwankwo Kanu (Ajax) and Austin Okocha (Eintracht Frankfurt), were invited for the return leg dubbed Battle of Mombasa. The Nigerians, nicknamed Dream Team because of the array of stars, thrashed their hosts 3-0, to advance to the second round.
EGYPT 1-1 NIGERIA: CAIRO, EGYPT (1996 ATLANTA OLYMPIC QUALIFIER)
After avoiding the shock of going out in the qualifiers to Kenya, the U-23 Eagles faced much tougher opponents in the Junior Pharoahs of Egypt in the second round. The first leg was played inside a packed National Stadium in Lagos. The duo of Nwankwo Kanu (brace) and Kingsley Obiekwu, were on target for the U-23 Eagles, but the Egyptians scored two goals to end the game 3-2, making the return leg in Cairo a dicey affair.
In the return leg, the likes of Taribo West, Victor Ikpeba and Sunday Oliseh, were invited to beef up the team, but it was the Egyptians that shot into the lead early in the game. But towards the end of the first half, Ikpeba drew Nigeria level with a ferocious shot from outside the 18-yard box to bring scores to 1-1. The team held on to advance 4-3 on aggregate. And in the final round of the qualifiers, they edged out Zimbabwe 2-0 on aggregate and joined Tunisia and Ghana as Africa’s representatives at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games which they eventually won.
GHANA 0-0 NIGERIA: ACCRA, GHANA (2008 BEIJING OLYMPIC QUALIFIER)
Under Samson Siasia, the U-23 Eagles met the Black Meteors of Ghana in the qualifiers for the 2007 All Africa Games in Algiers, but were knocked out on the away goals rule, (they played 0-0 in Accra and 1-1 in Abuja). Both teams found themselves in the same group along with South Africa and Ethiopia in the qualifiers for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games (Ethiopia later withdrew, leaving Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa in the group). The U-23 Eagles beat Ghana 3-2 in their first group game in Abuja. In the reverse fixture, Ghana who were ahead of the U-23 Eagles by two points, needed an outright win to seal qualification for the Olympics. But the U-23 Eagles, who had the likes of Ambrose Vanzekin, Sani Keita, Efe Ambrose, Chinedu Obasi and Obinna Nsosfor, put up a dogged performance and held Ghana to a 0-0 draw. And in their last group game, they confirmed qualification for the Olympics after beating South Africa 3-0 in Abuja.
NIGERIA 4-0 ZIMBABWE: LAGOS, NIGERIA (2000 SYDNEY OLYMPIC QUALIFIER)
This was one of the most dramatic games the U-23 Eagles have ever played in the Olympic qualifiers. The U-23 Eagles were in Group One with Angola, Uganda and Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe were coached by former Super Eagles coach Clemens Westerhof). Going into the last game of the group, the U-23 Eagles under Bonfrere Jo, needed to score four goals against Zimbabwe to overtake Angola who were ahead of the Eagles on three points and also on goals difference.
And after frustrating the Eagles for large part of the first half, the Zimbabweans’ resolve was finally broken following two quick goals from Emmanuel Ebiede. A chance to make it 3-0 was fluffed by Ebiede who missed a penalty.
With the game sliping away, the duo of Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Pius Ikedia sent the crowd into a frenzy with two late goals to complete the task and qualify for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
ZAMBIA 1-1 NIGERIA: LUSAKA (2015 ALL AFRICA GAMES QUALIFIER)
Since last appearing at the All Africa Games in Abuja 2003, the U-23 Eagles made a return after qualifying for the 2015 edition in Brazzaville, Congo. The team failed to appear in Algiers 2007 and Mozambique 2011, after losing out to Ghana on both occasions. They had to do it the hard way thanks to a 2-1 win against Zambia in Lusaka after the first leg ended goalless. A brace from Taiwo Awoniyi secured qualification for Samson Siasia’s side.