SV Mainz 05 of Germany striker, Taiwo Awoniyi will be all out to grab back-to-back conquests of the African U-23 Cup of Nations when he eventually joins Nigeria’s Olympic Eagles for this year’s championship in Egypt, megasportsarena.com reports.
Although the lad on loan from Liverpool of England will not be available for the Eagles’ opening match on Saturday against Cote d’Ivoire, after his club refused to release him for the Olympic Games qualifying competition, as it is not in the international calendar of world soccer governing body, FIFA, Awoniyi is sending a goodwill message to the squad ahead of their opening game.
Awoniyi now hopes to be available for the next group game against Zambia on Tuesday and then versus South Africa, with a view to inspiring the squad to achieve as much as he did with the set of 2015 coached by Samson Yebowei Siasia, for years ago in Senegal.
Back then, Nigeria added the under-23 trophy to their collection of continental silverwares with a spirited 2-1 win over Algeria at the final of the second edition of the championship in Senegal, en route to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where they finished third.
Since Nigeria broke the duck by winning a historic Africa’s first Gold medal in football at the 1996 Atlanta Games, the West Africans have maintained steady progress and were silver medalist in Beijing in 2008 whereas they won Bronze at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
Consequently, the current team under former goalkeeper, Imama Amapakabo are duty-bound to follow on the path of their predecessors by snatching one of three continental tickets to Tokyo 2020 at the third edition of the U23 AFCON in Cairo, Egypt from November 8 to 22.
However, the Olympic Eagles were not impressive in the qualifying race, as they struggled during away matches against Libya and Sudan, which they lost 2-0 and 1-0 respectively in Ben Guerdane and Omdurman respectively.
Amapakabo then relied on a haul of foreign-based players to get back into the contest, with two breathtaking results at Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba, where they thumped Libya 4-0 and then sank Sudan 5-0 to secure a third straight qualification for the championship that started in 2011.
Nigeria, who start their campaign on Saturday at Al Salam Stadium in Cairo against Cote d’Ivoire to be followed with the games against Zambia on 12 November and expected crunch match against South Africa on 15 November, will be captain by Azubuike Okechukwu, who also led the previous team to glory the last term in Senegal.
Currently on loan to Istanbul Basaksehir of Turkey from Pyramid FC of Egypt, the 22-year-old Azubuike is widely regarded as one of the pillars of the team and it remains to be seen if he can lead the Olympic Eagles to glory for the second successive times.
Apart from mercurial duo of Nwakali and Okechukwu, Amapakabo would also be counting on the likes of Orji Okwonkwo who recently made the headlines in the USA Major League Soccer (MLS) as Montreal Impact’s most outstanding player of the season.
There is also 20-year-old winger, Sunday Faleye, who impressed at the 2018 Championship of African Nations (CHAN), where Nigeria finished as runners-up behind the hosts, Morocco, but Awoniyi, who scored the Eagles’ opener in their win over Sudan in Asaba, is picking Okechukwu as the marshal to watch in Amapakabo’s squad to Egypt 2019.
Awoniyi told CAFOnline.com: “I was part of last national U-23 team that won the AFCON in Senegal and it was one of the best moments of my career. In this current squad, I would pick our captain as the most influential because he has always shown courage, commitment and has been a good example to the team.”