Nigeria have vowed to attack Congo in their Pointe-Noire fortress this weekend and move closer to a seventh Olympic Games football tournament appearance.
The west Africans take a fragile 2-1 lead into the second leg of a third-round qualifier for the 2016 Rio Games and coach Samson Siasia has revealed his game plan.
“We will attack because we want to win in Congo, not avoid defeat,” the 47-year-old former national team striker told reporters.
A draw will suffice to take the ‘Dream Team’ to the final African qualification stage – an eight-nation tournament in Senegal with the top three finishers securing tickets to Brazil.
But Congo, guided by French coach Claude Le Roy, can eliminate Nigeria on away goals by winning 1-0 at Stade Municipal in the Atlantic oil hub.
Siasia and Le Roy can offer strong arguments as to why the ‘Dream Team’ or the ‘Red Devils’ will succeed. Nigeria excelled on the road this year in 2015 All-Africa Games qualifiers, which are also restricted to under-23 footballers, winning 4-1 in Gabon and 2-1 in Zambia. Taiwo Owiniyi was the two-goal saviour in Zambia, but only appeared as a second-half substitute against Congo because he was not fully fit.
Siasia said: “I have been in difficult situations with the ‘Dream Team’ before and have always emerged victorious.”
Backed by a 40,000 full house in Port Harcourt, Nigeria ran Congo ragged but woeful finishing prevented the hosts building a commanding lead.
Instead, Moise Nkounkou grabbed a precious away goal after Junior Ajayi struck twice within seven minutes soon after half-time.
Le Roy, whose success-filled career with numerous African countries does not include an Olympics appearance, believes his ‘Devils’ can claim another notable victim.
Congo eliminated former Olympic bronze medalists Ghana in the previous round by winning the second leg 1-0 and a penalty shootout 5-4 in Pointe-Noire.
“We were lucky to only lose 2-1 in Nigeria,” admits the bespectacled 67-year-old with flowing fair locks. But it is going to be far more difficult for Nigeria on an artificial pitch in Pointe-Noire,” warned the 1988 Cameroon Africa Cup of Nations-winning coach.
The Zambia – Cote D’Ivoire, South Africa – Zimbabwe and Tunisia – Morocco ties are also delicately balanced while Egypt and Mali should progress at the expense of Uganda and Gabon respectively.
Zambia must do without defender Boyd Mkandawire, red-carded during a goalless first leg in Abidjan, and be wary having held Nigeria away in the All-Africa Games only to fail at home.
South Africa, angered by what they believe was a “home town decision” that earned Zimbabwe a penalty and an undeserved 1-1 draw, warmed up for the return game with an impressive 2-0 victory over Rwanda.
“It has been a long time (15 years) since South Africa last competed at the Olympics football tournament and I think this team has what it takes to reach Rio,” predicted coach Owen Da Gama.
Dominant Morocco could build only a 1-0 home lead over Tunisia while Mali, who will lack suspended leading scorer Adama Niane, enjoy home advantage and a 1-0 lead against Gabon.
Only a miraculous comeback can save Uganda after a 4-0 drubbing in Egypt with Kahraba, real name Mahmoud Abdel Moneim, the two-goal destroyer-in-chief.