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 By Colin Udoh

Plenty of areas to work on as Nigeria heads into the Olympic quarterfinals

It would have been no surprise to see Nigeria's under-23 men's football team finish bottom of Group B at the Olympics.

With no allowances throughout their training camp, coach Samson Siasia owed five months wages, having to race against the clock from Atlanta to arrive in Manaus with just hours to spare before their first game, early elimination would have forgiven, even expected.

Instead, the team dug deep, won their opening two games and finished top of the group ahead of their better-prepared opponents. But Nigeria's final group game against Colombia showed weaknesses that opponents can exploit going forward.

Here's four takeaways from the Dream Team's group stage performance:

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Nigeria U23Nigeria U23
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1. Consistency remains a problem

Siasia's team scored five goals in the first game, one in the second and failed to hit the net in their 2-0 loss to Colombia.

At the other end, they let in four in an awful defensive performance from that first game, kept a very disciplined clean sheet in the second match, then let in two poor goals in the third.

It's hard to determine just how much of a part Nigeria's mental and physical fatigue from their bungled flight arrangements played. But even if that skewed the defensive performance from the first game, the final two games might be a more reasonable measure of the inconsistencies of the squad.

Against Colombia, their timing was off, more passes went astray than usual, and they failed to find shots on target. It is something Denmark, their next opponents, will take more than a passing interest in.

2. Questions over Akpeyi's selection

A direct fallout of the dire defensive performance against Colombia would be the display of substitute goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi.

One minute, he was letting in a soft, early goal. The next, he was pulling off a monster reflex save. Then, he was getting his timing horribly wrong to give away a penalty.

The major reason for bringing overage players into the squad is to provide experience and quality. Akpeyi is not a bad goalkeeper, but an overage player in an U23 squad should rightfully be expected to start.

If he does not, then fails to deliver when called upon, it is a waste of a spot that could have gone to a younger player with a brighter future prospects. On the basis of Akpeyi's performance against Colombia, Siasia would have been better off calling up a younger goalie. In this case, Dele Alampasu.

Nigeria lost their final group game against Colombia.

3. Nigeria have a lack of depth

With their two previous wins having guaranteed progress to the knockout stages, Siasia rightfully made five changes to his starting XI.

It was a good decision, one that any coach in the same position would be expected to make. But it showed up the lack of depth in the Dream Team squad. Ndifreke Udoh was constantly out of position, regularly forcing centre-back William Troost-Ekong out of position to cover for him.

Sodiq Popoola looked out of his depth most of the game, and Aminu Umar hardly ever provided cover for his full-back. Siasia, in his more quiet moments, must surely be contemplating the heights his team could have hit with the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho, Isaac Success, Kelechi Nwakali and Alex Iwobi in the squad.

4. Echoes of the 1996 gold medal winners

One bright spot from all of this would be symmetry.

In 1996, the gold medal winning team faced near similar pre-tournament issues before going on to beat one European team (Hungary), one Asian team (Japan) before losing to one South American team (Brazil) in the group phase on their way to claiming gold.

They've done the same here, beating Sweden, Japan again and losing to Colombia.

However, that is where the symmetry ends. Their next opponents are Denmark (Europe). Twenty years ago, it was Mexico that they despatched 2-0 to advance. But hey, let's stick to the group phase for now.

Colin Udoh is a Nigeria football correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ColinUdoh.


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