The Nigeria Under-23 team will on Wednesday battle hosts Senegal at the Leopold Sedar Senghor Stadium in one of the semi-finals of the CAF Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations. The three top teams in the tournament will represent Africa in the football event of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Senegal beat all their opponents in Group A to qualify for the semi-finals. They have scored six goals and conceded just one. But the Senegalese have to worry about the Nigerian team, who are also unbeaten in the competition. Nigeria won a match and drew two in Group B to finish second with five points behind Algeria on goal difference. They have scored five goals but have conceded four.
Both teams have met only once at the U-23 level. Senegal beat Nigeria 2-1 in a group match at the 2011 U-23 AFCON in Morocco to stop the Austin Eguavoen-coached side from making the London 2012 Olympics.
Nigeria have made six appearances at the Olympic Games and won the gold in 1996 and silver in 2008. Senegal have made only an appearance at the event in 2012.
Nigeria coach, Samson Siasia, scored the first goal for Nigeria when the Super Eagles beat the Teranga Lions 2-1 at the same stadium in the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations. He believes his team can repeat the 1992 performance at the Sedar Senghor Stadium on Wednesday.
“I would have preferred to play Senegal in the final but I have to do that in the semis. It will be a great match because they will have the fans behind them and we have to play and win,” Siasia told cafonline.com.
“At the Africa Cup of Nations in 1992, I scored here and this is why most Senegalese remember me. I will be around my players to repeat it on Wednesday.”
Senegal defender, Adama Mbengue, believes the home fans can cheer them on to victory.
“We have a good team and we’re working hard to win the tournament because Senegal have never won an Africa Cup of Nations title,” he said.
“The fans have been brilliant so far. We need them to be behind us so as to win the tournament for them and the entire country.”
Atlanta 1996 Olympics gold medallist, Garba Lawal, told our correspondent that the match would end in Nigeria’s favour if the players show the hunger to go to the Olympics.
He said, “The Senegalese will be difficult to beat for Nigeria because they are a more physical side than we are. They also have the home crowd behind them but I believe Samson would have done the corrections in the team to get a win and the Olympic ticket on Wednesday.
“Playing at the Olympics, World Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations is what any player wants to add to his credentials. That is enough motivation for the players to beat Senegal.”