Nigeria: Dream Team Cruises to Olympics Soccer Final

19 August 2008

Nigeria qualified for the final of the soccer tournament at the Beijing Olympics on Tuesday by defeating Belgium by four goals to one, 12 years after winning the gold medal at the Atlanta games.

The "Dream Team IV" appears to be walking in the footsteps of its predecessor in 1996. The teams share many similarities, for example in how they organize their offense and in the cohesion of their various elements.

Aiming for victory, Nigerian coach Samson Siasia fielded almost the same team as that which had beaten Côte d'Ivoire in the quarterfinals three days earlier. The Belgians came reinvigorated by their surprise win against Italy in their quarterfinal, but their enthusiasm met a highly-powered Nigerian team that immediately started to impose its rhythm and technical strength on the game.

The first augury of Nigeria's victory appeared when Olubayo Adefemi picked up a ball that was repelled by the Belgian defense right inside the box, following a 30-meter shot by Sani Kaita. Adefemi slotted the ball straight into the Belgian goal (1-0).

The Belgians tried a comeback with more consistent play. But their attacks were met with a solid Nigerian defense centered on the Dele Adeleye-Apam Onyekachi pair. Behind them, goalkeeper Ambrose Vanzekin was well prepared, repelling Belgian attempts time after time. It was a performance that enabled Nigeria to head to the locker room with a one-goal advantage.

Upon returning from the break, "Dream Team IV" changed its strategy completely, preferring to rely on counter-attacks.

It was a strategy that would prove conclusive at the 59th minute, when Chinedu Obasi Ogbuke, served by Osaze Odemwinge on the verge of being offside, scored (2-0). Thirteen minutes later, Ogbuke -- certainly the man of the match -- nailed the Belgian goalie with a powerful shot from 25 meters, off a pass from team captain Obinna Nsofor (3-0).

On this score, a Requiem Mass had already been said for Belgium, which suffered even more when Everton striker Victor Anichebe replaced Solomon Okoronkwo, sealing Nigeria's dominance.

At the 77th minute Chibuzor Okonkwo, thanks to a pass from Adefemi, his alter ego on the right side, found his way inside the Belgian goal (4-0). Nigeria had qualified for the final, despite a late goal by the Belgians after a free kick by Laurent Ciman (4-1, 88th minute).

The question now is whether history will repeat itself, and Siasia's boys will win gold.

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