Huesca of Spain midfielder, Kelechi Nwakali has declared that he and his colleagues in the Nigerian under-23 national team, Olympic Eagles will play like defending champions at this month’s African championship in Egypt, megasportsarena.com reports.
Nigeria won the last competition at Senegal 2015, then went on to win bronze at Rio 2016 Olymp[ics, such that Nwakali, who is assistant captain of the current squad, believes they will do even better this time out in the Land of The Pharaohs.
He went on to declare that, with total focus, determination and togetherness, the team can achieve their targets, despite the absence of several key players in Imama Amapakabo’s 21-man roster, and their inability to train together for a long period.
In fact, several foreign-based players did not train with the squad befoe the yleft Nigeria last Thursday, while others were still being expected to link up with the squad in Ismauilia, before they battle Cote d’Ivoire on Saturday.
Amapakabo included 15 foreign-based players in his squad list for the tournament in Egypt, but he could be without his captain, Azubuike Okechukwu, who plies his trade in Turkey, and SV Mainz 05 OF Germany striker, Taiwo Awoniyi for their opening match against Cote d’Ivoire.
That scenario has left many Nigerians skeptical of their chances of doing well in Egypt, with worries over cohesion and blending, but Nwakali insists there is no cause for alarm, as the former Arsenal of England fringe player, who was loaned by The Gunners to VV Van Venlo and MVV Maastricht of Holland as well as FC Porto of Portugal says they will play their hearts out.
With games against Zambia and South Africa also looming in Group B, Nwakali, who captained Nigeria to glory at the Chile 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup, insisted that the Olympic Eagles are not under pressure ahead of action at Egypt 2019, because he believes they will play as the champs that they at this level of the continental game.
Nwakali told thenff.com: ”I believe the team is ready but we have one mindset going to Egypt to pick up the ticket to the Olympics and I believe we can achieve that as a team with hard work. The tournament starts on the 8th and our first game is on the 9th, so we’ve got a lot of time to train as a team and I believe that we have a lot of foreign-based professionals.
”It is going to be a good game for us if we just put our mindset together, we can achieve it. First of all, Nigeria, we are the defending champions and I believe that only that is enough confidence for us.
”Playing South Africa, Zambia and even the Ivory Coast team, they are good opponents, we are going to respect them and not underrate them but at the same time having it at the back of our minds that we are going there to achieve our aim which is going to the Olympics next year. For me I don’t think there is any pressure.
”Nigeria want to win every game but this is football, at the same time we have to do what we have to do which is one thing at a time – picking the ticket to the Olympics. If we have to win the competition, then we are ready to do that because that is why we are going there but at the same time the first objective is to pick up the ticket to the Olympics.”