Nigeria U23 national team head coach Imama Amapakabo has received important boosts for Tuesday’s make-or-break U23 AFCON battle against Zambia with the arrivals of team captain Azubuike Okechukwu and star forward Taiwo Awoniyi.
The absence of the duo was greatly felt in the opening game of Group B that the defending champions lost by the odd goal to Cote d’Ivoire on Saturday, and Amapakabo is confident their arrival will spur his squad to a better performance against the Zambians.
“I am happy we now have Awoniyi and our captain, Azubuike. They are integral to the team and were influential in our qualifying matches. We will throw everything into the game against Zambia because we have left ourselves no choice at this point.
“I believe we have the team to not only overcome Zambia but go all the way in the tournament. We stumbled against the Ivorians but we have learnt from that and we now look forward to rescuing our campaign against the Zambians and South Africans.”
Former U17 World Cup winner Awoniyi, who plays for FSV Mainz 05 in the German top division, landed in Cairo late on Sunday, while Turkey-based Okechukwu, who also captained the Class of 2015 to the gold medal in Senegal, arrived in the early hours of Monday.
Okechukwu’s midfield partnership with Kelechi Nwakali was impactful in the handsome home wins over Libya and Sudan in the qualifying series, while Awoniyi got the important opener and also created chances in the defeat of Sudan that landed the Olympic Eagles in Egypt.
Nigeria take on Zambia at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo on Tuesday in a game they must pick up the maximum points to return to contention for a place in the semifinals of the competition, ahead of their clash with South Africa on Tuesday.
Only the top three finishers at the U23 AFCON will qualify to fly Africa’s flag at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament in Tokyo, Japan next year.