NFF President Amaju Pinnick has rallied the U-23 National Team ahead of the Africa U-23 Cup of Nations starting in Senegal on Saturday, saying that finishing among the top three should be their sole focus.
Nigeria’s U-23 won Africa’s first–ever Olympics football gold at the Centennial Games in Atlanta, USA 19 years ago with aplomb, and seven years ago, a group led also by Samson Siasia earned silver after losing a final battle to Lionel Messi–inspired Argentina at the majestic Bird’s Nest in Beijing.
However, the Class of 2011 faltered in the African qualifying race, losing to host Morocco and Senegal to crash out in the group phase at the inaugural Africa U-23 Championship. Failure meant the Dream Team was not at the London Olympics the following year.
“Presently, we are on a roll of good results and we are determined that those must continue. It’s been an exciting past few months during which we have won U-17 World Cup, qualified for the U-20 Women’s World Cup and reached the group stage of the African series for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
“The NFF is backing Samson Siasia because he is always keen to succeed. He has brought new, exciting faces to the group and there is confidence all around again. The ticket to the Olympics is non–negotiable.”
The Nigeria U-23 play their first match of the campaign against Mali at the Caroline Faye Stadium in Mbour on Sunday evening.
Pinnick insists that Senegal will again prove to be happy hunting ground for Nigeria football after the U-20 decimated continental opposition to win the Africa U-20 Cup of Nations there eight months ago.
“We won the U-20 Cup of Nations in Senegal at the beginning of the year; now, we are back there for the Olympics ticket and the trophy. We will achieve both, because Samson Siasia has put together a crack squad and he has the support of the NFF all the way.”
The Nigeria U-23 squad will also play Egypt and Algeria in the group phase. Only the top three finishers will qualify to represent Africa at the men’s football tournament of next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, taking place 3rd -20th August, 2016.