Revenge motivating Nigerian gold quest
Nigerian coach Samson Siasia has history against the side he will face in the final of the Olympic tournament on Saturday morning. As a player, he scored against Argentina in the group stage of the FIFA World Cup in 1994, only to watch his Super Eagles lose the game due to inexperience.
Eleven years later, Siasia had the opportunity to redeem himself in the finals of the U-20 World Cup in the Netherlands against a different Argentina side, this time as a coach. But he lost again, by the same 2-1 margin as during his days as a player.
Now offered a third chance to triumph in Beijing with his 'Dream Team IV,' Siasia will turn to a team he built from scratch over three years ago. A team brimming with confidence, playing with more discipline and a lot more maturity compared to 2005, Siasia has instilled something not seen before in African football. Just like their coach, this group that has revenge on their mind.
Siasia gave an exclusive interview to ESPNsoccernet while preparing his team for the gold medal game at the Beijing Workers' Stadium.
Q. Congratulations on a fantastic display against Belgium.
A. Thank you. The boys did a fantastic job, I have to mention that.
Q. Can Nigeria win the final game and clinch gold? If so how?
A. Are you kidding me? What are we there for? Is that really a question in anyone's minds? Of course we can win the gold and we want to win it.
Q. A lot of critics have said Nigeria cannot defeat this Argentina side, how do you respond?
A. That's a lie. They are not only beatable; but we will be victorious on that day. I believe in my team and they believe in themselves, as you can see with the performance so far in the Olympics.
Q. Other critics have even gone on to say, this team cannot replicate the performances against Ivory Coast and Belgium in the finals, your thoughts?
A. Well apart from us, nobody really thought we would get here. We have been replicating our performances every game. We have continued to prove doubters wrong and we will do it again. For Argentina to beat us, they are going to have to do a very good job.
We have the fastest strikers in this competition, so nobody can stop us. Nobody can stop those guys. So those critics should look out, because if you think they [Argentina] are going to have a field day, no, it's not going to happen.
Q. Talk about your preparations for the main event; the quest to win gold.
A. This is really what we have been dreaming about. And we thank God that we are in finals now. These boys, you know them, they'll do whatever it takes to make sure they win in the finals. Argentina better be ready for a surprise.
Q. You've played and coached against Argentina in two different FIFA organized events [World Cup and U-20 respectively] and you lost both. What are you going to do differently this time?
A. I think it is the right time to win. I cannot wait for the victory. Like you said, I have lost two games against them and you cannot forget it. They shouldn't be too worried because they have the upper hand, so everyone thinks, but I want this one.
Q. Is revenge on the mind of the players?
A. Every one of them, every single one of them! They want this win and they want revenge for 2005. I can tell and I can see it in their eyes; they want this.
Q. African football has been stereotypically branded as indiscipline and impatient. How have you been able to instil in this group those qualities?
A. I preached to them that if you run at the opponents, they will see your weakness. You have to defend well and take your chances, that's all I keep telling them. The Argentine's are very crafty and being patient so far in this competition has gotten us this far. The Argentines are very smart as well and to defend Lionel Messi is the biggest thing we have to do. We just have to make sure we stay close to him and we don't give him the chances like we did the last time.
Q. What other big star for Argentina are your planning to look out for?
A. The biggest star is Messi, that's it. That's all. He is the biggest star in that team.
Q. Is there any pressure on the team, especially you, to deliver since the entire nation and football world will be watching this game?
A. No. There is no pressure. We are not under any pressure, because we want to win. And we are going to do the best we can to win this game.
Q. This team has gradually progressed throughout the competition and you have been openly critical of the players. Asides from winning, how have the players reacted to your comments?
A. The reaction is in what they have been doing. They have been winning like you said. From the last time I did that, we have been playing very well. I'm glad I did that. We did the right thing too, we talked and we did take care of our problems. Now we are heading to the finals. We've been great since them, and we are all on the same page.
Q. What are some of your comments before and after every game to this team?
A. I just tell them to play to their instructions, keep our formation in every game. We also need to take our chances in front of goal. You've seen the outcome of us taking those chances. I always ask them to take their shape even after the game, I still mention it. Can you imagine two defenders scoring in the game against Belgium? These boys know they can do something big in the final and the mood in camp is great.
Q. Your preparation for the Olympics was probably the worst of the four teams in the semi-finals. How do you keep on coaching in a country where the Football Association is incompetent?
A. It's just sheer determination and hard work, knowing that I can do a good job. That's all that's carrying me and the players. I know that determination will lead us to victory against Argentina.
• Sulaiman Folarin is a columnist for ESPNsoccernet and contributing writer for ESPN The Magazine. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.