U-23 AFCON: Etebo, Awoniyi, Ajayi wary of Mali | Ripples Nigeria
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U-23 AFCON: Etebo, Awoniyi, Ajayi wary of Mali

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Nifemi Daniel

Nigeria U-23 Eagles striking trio of Oghenekaro Etebor, Taiwo Awoniyi and Junior Ajayi have expressed caution as they battle Mali in the U-23 AFCON Group B opener on Sunday at the tourists’ resort of Mbour in Senegal.

The trio,1 who are expected to lead Nigeria’s assault upfront in their quest to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil, however expressed optimism in the team’s ability to beat the Malians.

Nigeria are featuring in the U-23 AFCON for the second time after they failed to make it to the London 2012 Olympics, while Mali will be appearing at the competition for the first time.

The Malian Eagles are big and physical, meaning the Nigeria lads must use their athletic ability to come out victorious.

The Samson Siasia tutored side will begin their campaign at the artificial pitch of Caroline Faye Stadium by 5pm after they rounded up their training camp in The Gambia with a big 5-0 win over Gambia U-20 team after both teams first drew 1-1 in another warm-up game.

Speaking in separate exclusive interviews with Ripples Nigeria, the players are upbeat on Nigeria’s chances.

According to Etebo, who has been in great form leading up to this championship, scoring four goals including a hat-trick against Real Banjul, “the Malians can be very ticklish with their style of play but we are very conscious of that and we are not taking them from granted. “

The Warri Wolves attacking midfielder added: “We must defeat them to enhance our chances and we have what it takes to achieve the desired results.”

For Taiwo Awoniyi, who is currently on loan at FSV Frankfurt, Germany from Liverpool, “The Mali game will determine our destiny at the competition and we are ready to take our chances even though we are expecting a tougher game because of their physical style of play.”

Junior Ajayi who plays for CS Sfaxien in Tunisia, however said, “We know Mali football is on the rise after they finished third at the FIFA U20 World Cup and were beaten finalists in the FIFA U17 World Cup, but we are ready for them. It’s going to be a fight to finish encounter in which we hope to triumph by God’s grace.”

Nigeria won an historic Olympic gold after defeating Argentina 3-2 in the final of the 1996 edition in Atlanta, USA and finished as runner up to Argentina in 2008 while the Malians have failed to qualify for the Olympics since they debuted at the 2004 edition in Athens, where they fell to Italy in the quarterfinals.

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