Friday, August 22, 2008

Olympic Gold For Nigeria?


Nigeria squares off against Argentina in Saturday's Olympic gold medal final and while the game is a repeat of the 1996 gold medal match that Nigeria won 3-2, can the Super Eagles' offense deal with Lionel Messi and the Albicelestes this time around?

Argentina are favored after their 3-0 destruction of Brazil in the semi-finals.

But Nigeria's "Dream Team" also put in an impressive performance in their semi-final victory over Belgium 4-1.

Argentina boast the skills of Spanish-based trio Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Fernando Gago.

But Nigeria have their own quality attackers in Peter Odemwingie and Victor Obinna Nsofor backed up by wingers Chinedu Ogbuke Obasi and Solomon Okoronkwo.

"We have to play like (coach Samson Siasia) told us, and not have everyone trying to do something special," Hertha Berlin striker Okoronkwo said.

"We have to play simple and conserve energy."

Truth be told, it's how the Nigerian defense handle the mercurial Messi that will determine the outcome of the game.

"We have to make sure we don't give them room to operate," coach Siasia said.

"Messi is going to be a handful, we know that. But if you shut off the supply to Messi, it makes it more difficult for him."

It was Messi who sparked Nigeria's downfall in the final of the 2005 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Holland when he earned and converted two penalties in a 2-1 win.

"It's still fresh," recalled Siasia.

"We actually gave that game up ourselves with the two penalties. But this team has grown, and now we have more experience. I don't think we'll make the same mistakes twice."

Argentina football legend Diego Maradona, a regular at their games in Beijing, is forecasting a 2-0 win for his team in the final.

"Hopefully it will turn out how I say, so that the boys can win the gold medal, because they deserve it," he said.

"But be careful, Nigeria are a good team, we have to respect them, but I am very confident in this team, and in 'Checho' (coach Sergio Batista)."

Argentina are looking to defend the title they won in the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Nigeria is hoping to add to their impressive array of international accolades which include 1996 Olympic gold and the 2007 Under-17 World Cup.

It's been bedlam in Nigeria as fans celebrated their advancement into the gold medal match.

When Nigeria scored the fourth goal against Belgium in the semifinal, policemen in the capital's police headquarters celebrated so loudly the building shook.

People gathered around every available television set to watch the so-called "Dream Team" play, mainly made up of under-23 players.

The roar when each goal was scored could be heard out in the streets of the capital, Abuja.

Petty trader Idriss, known to his customers as "Old Man", watched the game through the window of the restaurant next door to his street side stall in the Capital's Wuse 2 area.

"When I can't see, other people tell me what's happening," he said.

Some of the other spectators by the window hid their faces and refused to speak for fear of being caught out of work.

Football fan Martins Stephens said the win had restored his faith in Nigerian football.

"I know we can go ahead and beat Argentina," he told the BBC.

MY POV: Should be a wonderful game. Go on, Nigeria!!

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