Huesca of Spain midfielder, Kelechi Nwakali has admitted that he and other players in Nigeria’s under-23 national team, Olympic Eagles had limited time to train together, hence his view that they will bank on combined individual talents to retain the African title in Egypt, megasportsarena.com gathered.
Heading into next weekend’s kick-off in the Land of The Pharaohs, the Chile 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup-winning captain reckoned that blending could be a huge challenge for Nigeria’s star-studded squad of 15 foreign-based players att he African U-23 Cup of Nations, but believes they can rise to the occasion with their re4spective personal qualities.
Indeed, it is already four years when Nigeria added the U23 AFCON trophy to their collection of continental silverwares, following a spirited 2-1 win over Algeria at the second edition in Senegal en route to qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games but Nwakali, who was voted most valuable player (MVP) at Chile 2015, admits it will be tough against Cote d’Ivoire, Zambia and South Africa in Group B of this year’s championship in North Africa.
Nwakali also admitted that there will be the added pressure of trying to keep up the tempo that is expected on the under-23 squad, which has been tagged ‘Dream Team’ since they broke the duck by winning a Africa’s first Olympic Games’ football gold medal at Atlanta ‘96, and the West Africans were also silver medalist at Beijing 2008, then won bronze at Rio 2016 in Brazil.
Consequently, Nwakali admits that the current team under ex-youth international goalkeeper, Imama Amapakabo are duty-bound to follow on the path of their predecessors, but they must first of all earn one of the available continental tickets for Tokyo 2020 when the third edition of the U-23 AFCON holds in Egypt from 8 to 22 November.
Although Nwakali, who was signed by Arsenal after his exploits in Chile, but was loaned severally to VV Venlo of Holland and MVV Maastricht of Holland as well as FC Porto of Portugal, before he joined Huesca fully this summer, admits ruling Egypt 2019 will not be easy for the Olympic Eagles, he believes their depth in quality will make a difference.
Such it was, when they faced torrid time in the qualifiers, against Libya and Sudan, as they lost the two away ties 2-0 and 1-0 respectively in Ben Guerdane and Omdurman, with the avalanche of Europe-based players turning both reverse ties around at Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba, where they mauled Libya 4-0 and trounced Sudan 5-0, which Nwakali says they can do again.
Nigeria will start their campaign next Saturday, November 9 at Al Salam Stadium in Cairo against Cote d’Ivoire, to be followed versus Zambia on 12 November and South Africa on 15 November, all of which Nwakali admits will be tough games for his side, but the team’s assistant captain bel;ieves they will be able to scale through, just the way they did in the qualification campaign.
Nwakali told CAFOnline.com: “It was not easy for us to qualify for the U-23 AFCON in Egypt. We lost both away matches to Libya and Sudan but won convincingly back home; that shows the kind of quality we have as a team.
“None of the three matches against Cote d’Ivoire, Zambia and South Africa is going to be easy because the three teams have rich football pedigree. I believe we can hold our own against them especially if we can bring our best individual qualities together for the team.”