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NANFEATURES: Is Nigeria’s U-23 Football Team a “Dream Team’’ in Name and Indeed?


Since after the Nigerian U-23 team won the gold medal of the football event of the Atlanta ’96 Olympic Games, the team’s official designation has since changed to “Dream Team’’.

The team at that time had the very best of the nation’s football talents in its ranks, players like Nwankwo Kanu, Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha, Sunday Oliseh, Daniel Amokachi, Taribo West, Uche Okechukwu among others were some of the stars that made up the team.

This array of talented footballers literally took the football world by storm by overcoming very stiff and highly talented opposition like Brazil and Argentina to win the much coveted gold medal in the quadrennial global sports fiesta.

It pertinent to note that the team’s victory was the first time an African country was winning the Olympic soccer gold medal.

The name, “Dream Team”, that was eventually adopted by the all conquering U-23 team, did not drop from the sky, it was a recourse to the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games where actually the concept was first used.

The original Dream Team, the U.S. basketball team that won the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona was a phenomenon on and off the court.[pro_ad_display_adzone id=”10″]

It mattered not that it dominated the Olympic competition, beating its eight opponents by an average of 44 points.

What was important was that the Dream Team, the first U.S. Olympic team to include NBA stars, gave fans a glimpse of basketball at its finest, and the entire world responded.

The team had three of the game’s all-time greats: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

The team also had the irrepressible Charles Barkley, as well as seven more NBA All-Stars: centers David Robinson and Patrick Ewing, power forward Karl Malone, swingmen Scottie Pippen, Chris Mullin and Clyde Drexler and point guard John Stockton.

Their coach, Chuck Daly, was so overwhelmed by the array of mega talents at his disposal and described the team thus: “It was, like Elvis Presley and the Beatles put together.

“Traveling with the Dream Team was like travelling with 12 rock stars.

“That’s all I can compare it to,’’ he said.

The team was described as an unplayable team because opponents didn’t have a chance, but they didn’t care.

It was even reported that one player, while trying to guard Magic Johnson, was seen frantically waving to a camera-wielding teammate on the bench, signaling to make sure he got a picture of them together.

Since their advent in the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992, the succession of U.S. basketball “Dream Team’’ have gone on to win the basketball events of the Atlanta1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and the 2012 London Olympics where Nigeria’s D’Tigers were crushed by a whopping score line of 156-73 in one of their outings.

The poignant question to ask at this juncture is whether the Nigerian Dream Team has lived up to its billing in terms of performance and reputation wise.

Since their epochal victory at the Atlanta ’96 Olympics, the closest the U-23 team has come to winning another gold medal was the silver medal that the Samson Siasia-tutored side won at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

Since then the team had performed epileptically and not making the kind of impact that was expected of a team with such a name.

A development that made one of the nation’s renowned TV sports analyst, Kayode Tijani, to say that the U-23 team is not qualified to be called the “Dream Team’’.

“They are not qualified to bear the name Dream Team.

“We only named the victorious U-23 team, Dream Team after we won the gold medal at the football event of the Atlanta ’96 Olympics.

“Even the players themselves did not believe that they will win the competition, and the goalkeeper Joseph Dosu, said that at half time against Brazil, the players were more concerned about damage control.

“The players were more concerned about the reaction of the nation’s teeming fans and did not believe that they will turn the table against the Brazilian team that had the likes of Ronaldo da Lima, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Dida etc.

“To me, what qualifies the U-23 to be called a Dream Team is to perform consistently like the American Olympics basketball team, the original Dream Team that has been consistently consistent performance wise,’’ he said.

In the same vein, Adokiye Amiesimaka, a member of the victorious Green Eagles squad that won the 1980 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations in Lagos, said it’s a neither here nor there issue.

“You give yourself the name you want which you are entitled to, and I see it as an ego thing.

“But if others should name you according to their assessment, it will be a more realistic name that they will give to you.

“We can call ourselves whatever we want, it’s a neither here nor there thing.’’

There was a time when the Super Eagles were not performing well and fans started calling them the Super Chickens; but they are still known as the Super Eagles.

“As a matter of fact, our national team used to be known as the Green Eagles before our late Vice-President, Augustus Aikhomu, renamed the team Super Eagles after the team’s remarkable performance at the Maroc ’88 edition of the AFCON.

“Like I said earlier, self-assessment is not a realistic task, it’s more of an ego thing,’’the former AFCON winner said.

In spite of the misgivings by Amiesimaka and Tijani, Eseoghene Edafe a renowned football on air analyst with the Brila FM 88.9 sports radio station, was of the view that the current U-23 team can be rightly called the Dream Team VI.

He stressed that a world renowned team like the Selecao of Brazil have not been able to win the football event of the Olympic Games compared to the nation’s U-23 team that has a gold and silver medal in their kitty.

Edafe added that it will be unfair to compare the U-23 team to the famed U.S. basketball team that has all it takes to sweep every team out of their path since basketball was their forte, compared to the U-23 team that had succeeded where more illustrious teams have failed.

“Our football team is not even ranked in the top 50 of FIFA’s monthly football ranking, but yet the Nigerian U-23 team has won a gold and silver medal in the Olympic Games, compared to the Brazilians that have won the World Cup, Copa America, and FIFA Intercontinental Cup.

“But in all their achievements, they don’t have an Olympic gold medal in their trophy cabinet.

“You may not agree with me in terms of comparing our U-23 team and the U.S. basketball team in terms of consistency, but I feel our team has done well to be called the Dream Team VI,’’ Edafe said.

With the nation’s qualification for the football event of the 2015 All Africa Games and the qualifiers for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games looming on the horizon, the nation’s current “Dream Team’’ is poised to prove that they deserve to be called Dream Team VI.

The Siasia-tutored side had to battled against the odds to eke out a 2-1 win over the hard fighting Zambians in Lusaka on April 12.

With Siasia at the helm again, the nation’s football fans are guardedly optimistic that the team is once more on the threshold of making Olympic football history by winning a second gold medal.

“We know the challenges ahead and the team is working very hard to ensure that it performs creditably.

“The newly invited players from the Flying Eagles that beefed up the team for the qualifiers are responding well to training.

“Our ultimate aim is to qualify for the AAG, which we have achieved and made up for the disappointment of not qualifying for the competition four years ago,’’ the Dream Team VI Media Officer said.

What is left now is for the team to prove to Nigerians that it merits the name Dream Team by winning the AAG and subsequently the Olympic gold medal in Rio 2016 in Braqzil. (NANFEATURES)

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