Nigeria v Gabon: Dream Team through to the final

Monday, April 27th, 2015

Nigeria’s under 23 national football team, known as “the Dream Team VI”, beat Gabon’s team on Saturday 7th March 2015, taking Nigeria through to the final round of qualifiers for the 11th All Africa Games’ Men’s Football Tournament. The fixture was held in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.

Tunde Folawiyo

The match had supporters such as Nigerian entrepreneur Tunde Folawiyo on the edge of their seats, culminating in a 2-0 victory for the Dream Team. Gabon’s under 23 team put up a valiant fight but were ultimately outclassed by their Dream Team rivals, sustaining this loss on top of a 4-1 defeat in Libreville, knocking them out of the All Africa Games qualifiers.

Junior Ajayi and Oduduwa Segun were the Dream Team’s scoring players, taking the team to the next round of qualifiers with an aggregate score-line of 6-1. Samson Siasia, the Dream Team’s Head Coach, seemed somewhat critical of his team despite their win, indicating in interview that there had been lapses and pledging to iron these out before the next match with Zambia.

Nigeria’s youth teams are often eclipsed by the success of the senior national side, but it is teams such as the Dream Team which will produce Super Eagles of tomorrow, achieving glory with the first team and becoming national heroes, in many cases, overnight. Afcon finalists Ghana demonstrated the importance of integrating a successful youth team into the senior side with their squad of 2009. South Africa and Equatorial Guinea have seen a major upturn in their fortunes since employing former youth team coaches. On an international level, Germany and Spain are shining examples of how recognising and nurturing potential; honing the skills of young players and careful planning and preparation can reap unforgettable glories. It is in this context that Super Eagles enthusiasts such as Tunde Folawiyo are beginning to look to Nigeria’s youth tournaments for the up and coming stars of tomorrow. The greatest challenge in building any national side is translating the magic of youth to the international competition pitch.

Samson Siasia’s under 23 team provide arguably the most promise in raising the fortunes of the senior side. These young players are hungry for success. With a combination of raw talent and tight coaching, they could be a breath of fresh air for the Super Eagles, bringing refreshment, revival and rejuvenation.

Through rigorous trials in Abuja in 2014, Samson Siasia worked whittled down a list of some 120 players to the Dream Team we see today. To these under 23 year olds, being picked to play for Nigeria’s Olympic side was precisely that: a dream in itself, and one which might just open the door to the echelons of professional international football.

Controlled by the Nigeria Football Federation, the under 23 team represents the country in international football competitions, including the Olympic Games (where the use of three overage players is permissible). The current squad is comprised of:

  • Daniel Emanuel (goal keeper);
  • Akande Abiodun (goal keeper);
  • Okorom Stanley (defence);
  • Erhun Obanor (defence);
  • Odudwa Segun Tope (defence);
  • Sani Faisal (defence);
  • Atanta Sodiq (defence);
  • Sincere Muenfuh Seth (defence);
  • Azubuike Okechuku (midfielder);
  • Kingsley Sokari (midfielder);
  • Oshobe Oladele (midfielder);
  • Godwin Savior (midfielder)
  • Saliu Popoola (midfielder);
  • Mohammed Usman (midfielder);
  • Tiongoli Tonbara (midfielder);
  • Etebo Oghenekaro (forward);
  • Alex Iwobi (forward);
  • Ajayi Oluwafemi (forward);
  • Peter Onyekachi (forward);
  • Amuzie Stanley (forward);
  • Omofoman Freedom (forward);
  • Paul Onuachu (forward).

The Dream Team’s youngest player is midfielder Azubuike Okechukwu, who has already collected an impressive four caps at the age of just 17. Their top scorer is Ajayi Oluwafemi with five goals. Recent call-ups to the Nigerian under 23 team include goal keeper Bala Yusuf Mohammed; midfielders Effiong Emmanuel Etim, Obido Godwin and Obochi Peter Eneojo and forwards Adetunji Sunday and Ewenike Achibi Chibuike.

The Nigerian under 23 team made their debut at the Olympic Games in 1968. ‘They have made five appearances since. Their best result was in Atlanta in 1996, when they took home the gold medal. They won silver at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The Dream Team have made five appearances at the All Africa Games, winning in 1973 – their debut appearance. They claimed the silver medal at the All Africa Games in 2003, and bronze in 1995 and 1991. The Dream Team won the Inter Continental Cup in 2008 and the Niger Tournament in 2002, claiming third place at the TIFOCO Tournament in 2003.

Dream Team Coach, Samson Siasia, is optimistic that his team will qualify for the All Africa Games when they host Zambia on Sunday 22nd March in Abuja. Siasia told interviewers that his boys are ready and that their focus is on getting the job done. He has great ambitions for his squad, both at the All Africa Games and the 2016 Olympics.