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U23 AFCON

TOKYO 2020 QUALIFIERS: OLYMPIC EAGLES SET TO AVENGE FOR SUPER FALCONS

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Affliction shall not come a second time. That seems to be the refrain echoing in the minds of Nigeria’s U23 players as they brace up for the final challenge to get the ticket for the football event of the 2020 Olympics. 

The qualifying tournament is the CAF U23 Africa Cup of Nations this weekend in Egypt. Nigeria’s first match will be a West African derby with Cote d’Ivoire.  The encounter on Saturday at the Al -Salam Stadium, Cairo is grudge-laden. 

Cote d’Ivoire eliminated the Nigerian Women’s team from the qualifying series for the Tokyo 2020. Nigeria will want to avoid double jeopardy from Cote d’Ivoire. 

According to a media statement from the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), the Nigeria’s U23 boys have intensified final preparations and have high expectations of picking the three points against Cote d’Ivoire in the Group B opening game.  

The NFF statement further pointed out that the head coach,  Imama Amapakabo is delighted with the output of his wards at training sessions, which have been holding at the training pitch of the Mercure Hotel in Ismailia since the team arrived on Thursday evening.  

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“The players have been working very hard and that is a positive point. They are looking forward to the tournament with a lot of enthusiasm and confidence.    

“We are also happy to have most of the Europe-based squad members with us already. That allows time for good planning, bonding and team building.”    

Midfield ace Kelechi Nwakali was the first overseas-based player in the team camp (he joined before the team left Nigeria), and he has since been joined by the likes of Tom Dele-Bashiru, Sincere Seth, Muyiwa Olabiran, Orji Okwonkwo, Valentine Ozornwafor, Anthony Izuchukwu, Bright Enobakhare, Sunday Faleye and Aliyu Yau Adam.    

Reigning champions Nigeria head Group B and will confront Cote d’Ivoire’s U23 squad at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo on Saturday afternoon, before further matches against Zambia next week Tuesday and South Africa three days later at the same venue. 

The Olympic Eagles are expected to depart Ismailia to their Novotel Hotel base in Cairo on Thursday. 

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Team captain Azubuike Okechukwu, defenders Bitok Stephen and Josiah Chukwudi and forward Taiwo Awoniyi are the only players still expected in the team camp, and will arrive before the departure to Cairo.

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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