Nigeria’s under-23 national team, Olympic Eagles stepped up their drills in Asaba, Delta State on Sunday, just few hours after their delayed return from Khartoum to Abuja, where they stayed for two days, before relocating to ‘The Big Heart,’ ahead of Tuesday’s reverse fixture of their African championship qualifier against Sudan.
With the Nigerian squad trailing for a 1-0 loss in Thursday’s first leg, Olympic Eagles’ coach, Imama Amapakabo admitted they cannot afford to relax, as he seeks to overturn the deficit and ensure his side qualify for this year’s Africa U-23 Cup of Nations in Egypt.
A goal at the end of the first half by Walla Edin Musa condemned the Cup holders to defeat at Al Merriekh Stadium on Thursday night, but the Nigerians fought hard and created several chances of their own in the encounter.
Amapakabo’s side flew into Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja on Friday afternoon and quickly returned to drills the following day in the Federal Capital Territory, where they then stayed for two days before heading to Asaba on Sunday, top commence the last phase of their preparations for Tuesday’s make-or-break final qualifying clash against Sudan.
Amapakabo charges had their first feel of Stephen Keshi Stadium on Sunday morning, after which they were scheduled to train there again in the evening and twice on Monday.
The AFCON U23 cup holders have now welcomed to camp Kelechi Nwakali, who missed the first leg, and Amapakabo is happy to have the Chile 2015 FIFA U17 World Cup-winning captain in camp to strengthen his midfield for Tuesday’s battle.
The Eagles will hope to pull off a repeat of the feat they had when they overturned a two goal deficit against Libya in the earlier round, winning 4-0 at the same venue, as Ampakabo says his players are confident of erasing the one goal deficit from Omdurman and soaring over Sudan to the third edition of the competition, which holds in Egypt from 8th to 22nd November.
In Egypt, Amapakabo will hope his side ends up as one of the two finalists that will fly Africa’s flag at the next year’s men’s football tournament of the Tokyo Olympics, with memories of how Nigeria won gold at Atlanta ’96, silver at Beijing 2008 and bronze at Rio 2016.
Amapakabo’s boys received a boost to their morale when Nigeria’s ambassador to Sudan, Musa Mamman praised players and officials after Thursday’s loss, as the envoy insisted the squad put in an impressive outing against their Sudanese hosts in Omdurman.
Speaking during a visit to the team, Ambassador Mamman lifted the players’ spirit with his use of kind words, as he picked positives from their first leg performance, saying though they lost the encounter by a lone goal, they fought hard and were certainly not disgraced.
Mamman stressed with well chosen words: “I am here to convey to you the goodwill message of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR). Even though we lost, we played a very good game and I have confidence in our ability to overturn the deficit and win by a clear margin in the return leg next week.
“You have the ability and the capacity to qualify for the championship. I urge you to be firm and resolute as you look forward to the second leg because about 200 million Nigerians are behind you in this campaign.”
Manu Downplays Worries Over Eaglets’ MRI Scans
Cadet national team, Golden Eaglets’ coach, Manu Garba has downplayed widespread reports about apprehension and worries rocking his thoughts about the eligibility of the players he will select for this year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup in Brazil, as he says the coaching crew will get their choices right and scale the dreaded Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans once again.
Manu recounted that all the 21 players they selected for the African U-17 Cup of Nations earlier this year passed the MRI tests, which he believes they are again capable of doing in arriving at their final squad for next month’s outing at Brazil 2019.
The UAE 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup-winning coach added that he and his assistants in the Eaglets’ technical crew have used the experience they gained from previous competitions to map out the best approach to selecting only players that will be qualified for the competition.
He acknowledged that more tests will still be carried out on the players when they get to Brazil, venue of this year’s Cadet Mundial, but reckoned that Nigeria should not have any problem of rejected players, once they do a thorough job at home before going to The Samba Nation.
Garba’s team are bound to get adequate preparations for the competition, as they will seal their preparations for the World Cup with a final training camp in Sao Paulo, the most populous city in Brazil, from where they will head to Goiania to take on Hungary on October 26 in their first group match, before facing Ecuador and Australia.
Before all that, the five-time world champions, who have been training in Abuja since last month, will fly out to Turkey on September 19 for an invitational that will run till September 28, ahead of which Manu, whose team finished fourth at this year’s U17 AFCON in Tanzania, said he is optimistic that everything will go according to plan for the squad.
Manu said: “I am optimistic that we will not have any problem with MRI in this team, because we already know what to do and we passed the same process during the African qualifiers in Tanzania.
“In fact, all the 21 players we took to Tanzania passed the MRI tests there; unlike Cameroon, Guinea and some other countries, whose players were dropped because of the MRI scans at the venue.
“The same will be done when we get to Brazil. That is why they told us to send a provisional ist of 50 players for every team, and I am sure we will get the required 23 players we need.”