Nigerian football got a major boost Sunday in Point Noire as the men’s Olympic team progressed to the CAF U-23 Championship, where the three qualifiers for Rio 2016 Olympics will be decided.
But the dream of the Super Falcons to play at the summer Games have been punctured by Equatorial Guinea, who Sunday defeated the Nigerians 2-1 in the return leg match in Bata. They progressed 3-2 on aggregate.
But the heroes of the weekend were the male team, who leading 2-1 from the first leg in Port Harcourt a fortnight ago, earned a barren draw in Point Noire to qualify 2-1 on aggregate score.
Parading the likes of Emmanuel Daniel, Stanley Amuzie, Sincere Seth, Segun Oduduwa, Erhun Obanor, captain Azubuike Okechukwu, Usman Mohammed, Oghenekaro Etebo, Godwin Saviour, Daniel Etor and two-goal hero against Congo, Junior Ajayi, the Dream Team truly played like a dream team, thwarting all the attacking forays of their hosts to come out unscathed from the war in Congo.
After what happened in the first keg, where they dominated but squandered series of chances to score more than two goals, many Nigerian fans were afraid that Siasia’s boys would succumb to their hostile Congolese but like a team on a mission, they went, saw, conquered and have now qualified to play in the maiden edition of the CAF U-23 Championship in Senegal from where the three qualifiers for the Rio Olympics will be determined.
But the Dream Team did not have it easy as they were pushed hard to the wall by the Coach Claude Le Roy-tinkered Congolese side, who from the start of the game, threw everything at the Nigerians, who however refused to buckle.
Despite being on the receiving end of the Congo attacking forays, Nigeria still made efforts to put pressure on their hosts, with Usman Mohammed driving a long shot towards goal only for Congo’s goalkeeper to push out for a corner kick in the 15th minute.
Rattled by that attempt at goal, Congo came out roaring but found the Nigerian wall impregnable. The Nigerian defenders were simply fantastic , rising to every occasion to deny Congo the precious goal they needed to advance to the U-23 Championship.
In the second half, the Dream Team dug their feet into the ground to thwart Congolese goals attempt. As the minutes wore down, the hosts stepped up their pressure on the Nigerians, who however were in no mood for any letting up. With three minutes left in regulation time, anxiety crept into both sides as a goal by either team would change the tide.
But with five minutes of injury time added by the match officials, Congo held out hope of still scoring but credit to Siasia’s boys for not taking their feet off the pedal as they played out the last five minutes like the game of their lives to record a 2-1 aggregate win over the Congolese.
But it was a bad day at the box office for the Falcons, who despite shooting into the lead through an Ngozi Okoli’s first-half strike, were unable to defend their lead, conceding two goals and crashing out 3-2 on aggregate, as their Olympic dream faded.