Nigeria were the defending champions going into that tournament in Egypt - the U23 Africa Cup of Nations and were dubbed as one of the favorites to either defend their title or at least finish in the the top 3, that would have at least guaranteed the team a ticket to the football event of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games which has now been postponed till next year due to Covid 19 pandemic that has disrupted a whole lot of events across the globe.
The U23 captain, Azubuike Okechukwu had led his side to winning the trophy in Senegal back in 2015 and was also a part of the team that won a bronze medal at the Olympics the following year in Brazil. However, he wasn’t lucky in his second quest as the team failed to even qualify from the group stages. That sent a shockwave across the nation and even beyond as it means Nigeria football will not be represented at the games with the female team - the Super Falcons also failing to qualify following a loss to Ivory Coast.
Azubuike shed more light on what went wrong in Egypt and why the team failed to qualify - “In the first campaign back in 2015, we had a good team and we played together a lot of times. We played friendlies, invitational tournaments, we trained a lot together and the chemistry was good so we had a strong bond before we won the tournament in Senegal and went on to finish 3rd in Rio.
This time around, it was different, the players hardly knew one another, we only trained once or twice before playing a competitive game, we practically struggled all through because there was no bond and the end result was that we failed to qualify for the Olympics. It was a painful experience.”
Nigeria won the Gold medal in Atlanta at the 1996 Olympic Games and also won the Bronze medal at the Rio Olympic Games in Brazil 20 years later.
Azubuike who currently plies his trade in Turkey with Istanbul Basakhesir is looking forward to making a move to another top side while he also hopes to still play a major role in the national team with the Super Eagles.
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