Saturday Aug 13, 2016. 11:54
After all the drama of the past few weeks, African champions Nigeria will hope to avenge a 6-2 thrashing they suffered at the hands of Denmark to book a place in the semifinals of the Rio Olympics tonight.
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Coach Samson Siasia’s team have been surrounded by all manner of drama, from being stranded at their training base in the US to embarking on a pay strike to protest non-payment of allowances.
But despite all the drama, Dream Team VI are the only African team who made it into the last eight of the competition in Brazil.
Siasia now has the Herculean task of rousing team spirit after he admitted he could no longer do so after “the harsh conditions” he and his players have been subjected by disrespectful officials.
His job of lifting confidence has been made a lot more difficult after they crashed 2-0 against Colombia in a final group game and now face a team who bashed them 6-2 just two months ago at an invitational tournament in South Korea.
His team are also sweating over the fitness of his talisman Oghenekaro Etebo, who suffered a hamstring injury against Colombia.
Yet, Siasia’s biggest worry remains a very suspect defence.
“We have to rectify the mistakes we’ve been making at the back because if we lose, we go home,” the coach said.
It is expected goalkeeper Emmanuel Daniel will return between the sticks in place of South Africa-based Daniel Akpeyi after he was rested for the Colombia game.
The versatile Shehu Abdullahi and Stanley Amuzie will also be the fullbacks with William Troost-Ekong and Sincere Seth the centre halves.
Should Etebo fail a late fitness test, Turkey-based Umar Aminu will play behind Roma youngster Sadiq Umar in attack.
Denmark will play a second straight game in Salvador, which should be an advantage for them, but they are not carried away by the 6-2 trouncing they inflicted on the African champions in June.
"It’s going to be a different match," predicted goalkeeper Jeppe Hojbjerg.
"That was a friendly game. You never know which players will play. Of course we can use the experience from that game but we just have to perform well."
Captain Lasse Vibe said he hopes Nigeria do not play as well as Brazil did against them and spanked them 4-0:
"I'm expecting a difficult match. I hope we can play like we did against South Africa (they won 1-0)," he said.
Winners of tonight’s showdown will battle the winners of the quarterfinal between European super powers Portugal and Germany.