BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
If existing statistics are anything to go by, the Nigerian Olympic Eagles should qualify for the football event of Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
They have qualified for every other edition since the turn of the century. They were at the Sydney 2000 Olympics but missed out at Athens 2004.
They were at Beijing 2008 where they finished as runners-up, but missed out at the 2012 London Games.
The cycle of alternate attendance continued as they qualified for the 2016 games where they finished as bronze medallist to become the first team to stand on all the steps of the podium – Gold medal in 1996, silver at Beijing 2008 and bronze at the Rio Olympics.
Before then, no other country achieved that feat. But hours later, Brazil in winning the gold medal equaled it, having won silver at London 2012 and bronze in 1996.
If tradition prevails, Nigeria should overcome Guinea to get a stepping stone to the Morocco U-23 Africa Cup of Nations which is the final launchpad to the Paris 2024 Games.
The first of the final step to that will take place on Wednesday in Abuja.
According to a release by the communication department of the NFF, the Nigerian side is prepared for any challenge.
At the U23 level, the Wednesday match will be the third confrontation of Nigeria and Guinea.
They had twice met at the football event of the Harare 1995 All Africa Games. In their first confrontation on 18 September 1995 in a group game, Guinea won 1-0. They later met in the classification duel that ended 1-1 at regulation time. Nigeria later prevailed 4-1 in the ensuing penalty shootout.
They meet again in Abuja on Wednesday. The NFF reports that Head Coach Salisu Yusuf said his Nigeria U23 boys are very much up to the task of grabbing one of the tickets to this year’s Africa U23 Cup of Nations in Morocco.
“I am satisfied that we have been able to work hard these past days and are now set for action. The players know that reaching the Africa Cup of Nations presents them a tremendous opportunity to fight hard for a ticket to the Olympics, which is a global tournament.
“We have invited a number of players from overseas that we believe can help us stake a very strong claim to the ticket, and we will be aiming for a good win on Wednesday. The second leg is on neutral ground, but we don’t want to entertain that in our minds. We have the objective of working assiduously to wrap up things in this first leg.”
Guinea’s U23 squad had their official training at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium on Saturday evening, hours before the Olympic Eagles took to the same pitch for their final workout ahead of the encounter.
The return leg of the Nigeria/Guinea has been scheduled for the Complexe Sportif Prince Heritier Moulay Al Hassan starting from 7pm Morocco time (8pm Nigeria time) on Tuesday, 28th March.
For Wednesday’s encounter in Abuja, CAF has appointed Sabri Mohamed Fadul from Sudan as referee. His compatriots Abdelgabar Mohamed Abdelgabar and Ahmed Subahi will serve as assistant referee 1 and assistant referee 2 respectively, while Ring Akech Malong from South Sudan will work as fourth official.
Munkaila Nassam Adam from Ghana will be the match commissioner.