AFCON U23: Imama Delighted with Okechukwu, Awoniyi’s Arrival
By Samuel Victor Akpan
After the disappointing 1-0 defeat to Cote d’ Ivoire on Saturday at the AFCON Championship in Egypt, Coach Imama Amapakabo finally has something to smile about ahead of Tuesday’s must win game against Zambia.
Captain of the side Azubuike Okechukwu and star forward Taiwo Awoniyi, both absent from the defeat to the Ivorians have returned to training and coach Imama is confident their arrival will spur his squad to a better performance against the Zambians.
Speaking at the team’s training camp, Imama said: “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.”
“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.”
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 and 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’s Olympic Eagles take on Zambia at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo on Tuesday in a game they must pick up maximum points to return to contention for a place in the semi-finals of the competition, ahead of their final group clash with South Africa.
The top three finishers at the U23 AFCON tournament will qualify to fly Africa’s flag at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament in Tokyo, Japan next year.