The Nigeria Football Federation said on Monday that it shared in the disappointment of the generality of Nigerians over the failure of the National U-23 team, otherwise known as Dream Team, to qualify for this year’s All-Africa Games Men’s Football Tournament.
Deputy General Secretary (Technical), Dr. Emmanuel Ikpeme said it was sad the team fell on the way goal rule to Ghana’s Black Meteors, just as happened in the race for the 9th All-Africa Games which took place in Algiers four years ago.
In 2007, the Dream Team IV coached by Samson Siasia drew 0-0 with the Meteors in Sunyani and was then forced to a 1-1 draw in Abuja to bow out to the Ghanaians at the last hurdle. But Siasia and boys went on to win the Olympics silver in Beijing the following year.
“It’s unfortunate the team had to lose out on the away-goal rule despite all the efforts of the Federation. But we have to look ahead and be focused on what to do next”, said Ikpeme on Sunday night.
In reaction, NFF chieftains are determined to re-jig the set-up of the playing squad as the Dream Team countenance an eight-nation tournament that will determine Africa’s representatives at next year’s Summer Olympics in London.
NFF President Aminu Maigari, who arrived in Kumasi by road from Accra on the morning of the match, was depressed: “This is very sad because we made all the efforts to ensure the team’s qualification and gave the technical crew free hand. Yes, we have to look ahead, but we must identify the challenges the team faces now in order to be able to march ahead positively”.
Officials blamed the absence of a number of key players on the 2-0 defeat, which sent Ghana through on the away goal they scored in Benin City two weeks ago. Number one goalkeeper Dele Ajiboye, lion-hearted defender Ibok Edet, midfielders Lukman Haruna and Obiora Nwankwo and pacy winger Ahmed Musa missed the clash in Ghana’s second city.
Officials also insist fresh legs have to be considered, with names like Al Ittihad of Libya’s Izu Azuka, new Bundesliga boy Anthony Ujah and Samson Siasia’s recommendees Olumide Durojaiye and Chuks Aneke being touted.
Defeat was hard to swallow particularly after efforts made by the NFF to change the team hotel from the sub-standard, backstreet Ceeta-Kel Hotel booked by the Ghana Football Association to the upscale Sports Hotel, expenditure on a chartered Air Nigeria aircraft that flew the team direct to Kumasi and back, and violent antics unleashed on the Nigerian team and media representatives by Ghanaian fans at training session on the eve of the match.
Nigeria is one of the eight nations to contest a tournament in December that will determine Africa’s three flag-bearers in London, with the fourth-placed team to play off against an Asian country in London on April 12, 2012. The other seven countries are Algeria, Morocco, South Africa, Gabon, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal and Egypt.