Head Coach of the U-23 National Team, Samson Siasia has given his players a one-week break to go and unwind, rest with their families and get set for the task ahead.
Addressing the players before departing Pointe Noire for Nigeria, Coach Siasia warned the boys to remain focused and be good ambassadors of the team in their various clubs as any negative report from their clubs will be taken serious by the team’s management.
Led by chairman of the NFF Technical and Development Committee, Chief Felix Anyansi-Agwu, the U-23 team delegation landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja few minutes after noon on Tuesday, aboard an Ethiopian Airline flight.
How They Won Battle of Pointe Noire
Thunder, the sages insist, does not strike twice in one place. Congo U-23 team Coach, Claude LeRoy had boasted that he stopped the Super Eagles from qualifying for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, and the Dream Team and Nigerians sorely wanted a pound of flesh from this boastful Frenchman.
That aside, the Nigeria men and women teams did not qualify for the Olympic Games held in London four years back, and as such, did not want history to repeat itself. Also, no battle is ever won without sweat and blood being spilled.
This is how best to begin this narrative on how the Coach Samson Siasia -led U-23 national team went to the commercial capital of Congo Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire to pick one of the slots for the African U-23 Championship coming up in Senegal later this year.
With a slim 2-1 victory from the first leg played in Port Harcourt, the reality dawned on all that the Nigeria Football Federation needed to work extra hard to ensure the team qualified for the championship. The NFF leadership never shirked its responsibility. Siasia and Falcons’ Coach Danjuma (whose team had been held to a 1-1 draw in Abuja by Equatorial Guinea), were called to a meeting of the NFF Technical Committee, as a first step.
After that meeting, a strategic plan for both matches evolved. The delegation to Pointe Noire was led by the Chief Felix Anyansi-Agwu (chairman of Technical Committee), a veteran of nail-biting battles, and also included Dr. Emmanuel Ikpeme (Deputy General Secretary), Bola Oyeyode (deputy director, competitions) and Siji Lagunju (assistant director, technical). Technical Committee member, Etubom Paul Bassey, joined the delegation in Addis-Ababa.
On arrival in Pointe-Noire, the delegation was warmly received by the Consul-General of the Embassy of Nigeria in Brazzaville Mr, Adamu Shuaibu Hamza along with Mr Adebayo Iyaomiye. The embassy practically moved to Pointe Noire alongside a large Nigerian community who were led by their president in Pointe Noire, Ezenwanbasili Egbuna, with specially made t-shirts.
After resting for 3 hours at its Hotel De Fez, the team had its first training session at the match venue as there was no other place for the team to train. This was done under floodlights between 6.30 and 7.30.
On Saturday, the team also trained at the match venue at the match time of 3.30pm, but this time over- zealous officials of the Congolese FA came after 50 minutes to practically chase the team out of the pitch insisting that it had over stayed. our time, but trust the leader of delegation.
On match day, Anyansi-Agwu addressed the players, telling them the expectations back home and reminded them it was time for them to prove to the Congolese that the Port Harcourt victory was no fluke, ending up with the slogan that the boys should see the match as “die man, die for victory.” Etubom Bassey and Dr. Ikpeme also spoke.
Coach Siasia charged the boys not to let over 170 million Nigerians down. He said the boys should not be bothered about the number of professional players invited by the Congolese. On arrival at the Stade du Municipal , the boys came out to warm up and were received by, expectedly, a hostile crowd. When the sports minister of Congo came and saw the low attendance, he ordered that the gates be thrown open, even with that gesture the stadium was barely half filled.
Good things, they say, come in small packages. When the teams filed out, the diminutive captain of the Dream Team, Azubuike Okechukwu standing beside the tall Congolese captain made it look like a battle between David and Goliath. There were Daniel Emmanuel in goal, and Stanley Amuzie, Erhun Obanor, Segun Oduduwa and Sincere Seth in defence. In the middle of the pack were Azubuike Okechukwu, Oghenekaro Etebo and Usman Mohammed while the attack was made up of Godwin Saviour, Daniel Etor, and two -goal hero in the first leg, Junior Ajayi.
After five minutes, the Dream Team took control of the game, not allowing the Congolese to see the ball not to talk of playing their game and if not for carelessness in front of goal they would have been up by two goals within the first 15 minutes.
In the second half, the Congolese were becoming restless calling on their coach to make changes as his expected foreign messiahs were not living up to expectations, but Coach Siasia quickly brought in Umar Aminu for an off form Daniel Etor and minutes later brought in Kinglsey Sokari for tired Usman Mohammed. These changes stabilized the team, but most importantly the players followed the instructions of Coach Siasia that they must play for one another.