BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
The Nigeria U23 football team, the Olympic Eagles have a crucial assignment in Cairo this Tuesday in the match with Zambia. They cannot afford another loss as the Group B games of the CAF U23 Cup of Nations get to match day 2.
Having lost their opening match on Saturday to Cote d’Ivoire, another loss this Tuesday not only terminate their title defence, but also the hope of returning to the Olympic Games where they are the most successful African side.
The Nigerian side was not just the first team in Africa to win the gold medal of Olympic Games football event, the 1996 squad was also the first team outside Europe to win the football event medal in 68 years.
Before the famous win at Atlanta ’96, the last none European team to win the gold medal was Uruguay in 1928. Since Nigeria’s victory, no European side has won the gold medal.
Nigeria went ahead to become the first nation to win all medals of the football event by winning the silver and bronze in 2008 and 2016 respectively. Moments after the 2016 bronze medal outing, Brazil, the hosts, equal the feat by winning the gold having previously won bronze in 1996 and silver in 2012.
But will Nigerian football thrive only on historical achievements? That will partly be answered as they line out against Zambia. A win will restore hope. A draw stretches the agony to the last matchday on Friday, depending on the result of the encounter between South Africa and Cote d’Ivoire.