DEFENDING champions, Nigeria have crashed out of the ongoing U23 AFCON in Egypt following a goalless draw with South Africa thereby ending any chance of the country being at the Olympics Tokyo in 2020.
The draw, Friday, meant that the Eagles finished third in Group B, and dropped out of contention for a place in the Men’s Football Tournament of the Olympics.
Champions in 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, USA where they won Africa’s first-ever football gold medal of the Olympics, the Nigeria U23 participated in the tournament in Australia in 2000, but missed the event in Greece in 2004.
They then took part at the event in China in 2008 and won the silver medal; missed the tournament in the United Kingdom in 2012; participated in the event in Brazil in 2016 and won the bronze medal and; will now miss Tokyo 2020.
On a day they needed just one goal to topple the South Africans and assure of a place in the last four – irrespective of the result in the other match between Cote d’Ivoire and Zambia – the Eagles failed to fly.
Awed by Nigeria’s parade of stars at the U23 AFCON in Kelechi Nwakali, Taiwo Awoniyi, Azubuike Okechukwu, Sincere Seth and Orji Okwonkwo, alongside respected home-based professionals Sunusi Ibrahim and Ndifreke Effiong, the South Africans preferred to sit back and defend for the first half hour.
As the attacks continued to falter, the South Africans ventured out to attack. And thrice they came close to putting the ball in the net, but met with the alertness and agility of goalkeeper Adamu Abubakar.
Abubakar also saved the Olympic Eagles in the second half, as the South Africans fired relentlessly, while Nigeria were looking for the perfect goal by walking the ball into the net.
President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick was quoted as saying that the failure of the Olympic Eagles was a shock.
“Working together with the Ministry of Sports, we have been able to provide the team with what is required for them to excel.
“The team’s failure to reach the semi finals and ultimately qualify for the Olympics is a big shock.
“Three years ago, football won the only medal that Nigeria took from the Olympics in Brazil.
“Our expectation was that this team would qualify for Tokyo and go there to do the country proud,” he said.