By Albert Akota
Loss in the first leg of their second round, first leg encounter against Libya’s U23 squad means Cup holders Nigeria must achieve a high –score win over the North Africans to avoid early elimination from this year’s U23 AFCON finals, and cumulatively next year’s Olympic Games.
Africa’s three flagbearers at the Men’s Football Tournament of next year’s Olympics in Tokyo will emerge from the 3rd Africa U23 Cup of Nations in Egypt in November.
Only a massive win over Libya at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba today and success in the final round of qualifiers in three months’ time will make Nigeria eligible to defend her title in Egypt, and thus able to fight for an Olympics ticket.
One goal in each half in the Tunisian city of Ben Guerdane on Wednesday, plus a goalkeeper expelled for ball handling outside the box, was the summary of a poor outing by the Olympic Eagles, and pride and pedigree suggest an all –out attack from the blast of the whistle would be the option for the Nigerians in Asaba.
Former U17 World Cup winners Kelechi Nwakali, Samuel Chukwueze and Taiwo Awoniyi, who were in Ben Guerdane, arrived with and have been training with the Olympic Eagles, but Nigeria have also chiseled out goalkeeper Francis Uzoho, defenders Chidozie Awaziem and Valentine Ozornwafor and striker Victor Osimhen from the senior team to help this particular cause.
In October last year, the Super Eagles overpowered Libya’s senior team home and away to brighten chances of qualification for the 2019 AFCON (which they have since secured), and the U23 squad would be determined to wrest this encounter from the Libyans to maintain the storyline.
The Confederation of African Football has appointed Kenyan officiating officials for today’s game, with Anthony Ogwayo to serve as referee. Oliver Omondi Odhiambo will be assistant referee 1 and Tony Mudanyi Kidiya will serve as assistant referee 2 while Israel Lemayian Mpaima will be the fourth official.
Meanwhile, the delegation of seven –time African champions Egypt have arrived in Nigeria for Tuesday’s prestige friendly with Nigeria’s Super Eagles.
Yesterday morning, a chartered Air Peace aircraft flew from Nigeria to Niamey, capital of Niger Republic to airlift the delegation to Asaba, capital of Delta State, where they confront three –time African champions Nigeria on Tuesday evening.
The Pharaohs, already qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations that they host this summer, drew 1-1 with hosts Niger Republic on Saturday in one of the final –day AFCON qualifying matches.
The delegation of 24 players, 21 technical and backroom staff and five journalists landed at the Asaba Airport in the early afternoon, and is accommodated at Golden Tulip Hotel.
The Pharaohs will train at the Stephen Keshi Stadium today evening, after the Africa U23 Cup of Nations qualifier between Nigeria and Libya.