Nigeria’s 1-0 victory over Sweden means they have sealed qualification to the quarter-finals of the Olympics men’s football event and will emerge from Group B as leaders after establishing an unassailable lead at the top of the standings with six points and a +2 goal difference after Colombia’s second draw against Japan on Sunday.
With their position as group leaders confirmed, Nigeria will face the second placed team in Group A consisting of Denmark, Brazil, Iraq, and South Africa. Although all four teams could still finish as runners-up, hosts Brazil are in second place as things stand and are poised to be Dream Team VI’s quarter-final opponents.
This current crop of Brazilian Olympians led by Neymar, are yet to find the back of the net after two goalless draws in their opening games against South Africa and Iraq.
With expectations high for the team to win Brazil’s first Olympic football gold medal, Neymar and co have been largely disappointing and should prove ideal opponents for Samson Siasia’s men.
However, it would be unwise to write off a team as talented as this Selecao side, especially one boasting the services of Barcelona superstar Neymar, Manchester City new recruit Gabriel Jesus, and Santos hotshot Gabriel Barbosa, and with history suggesting the goal-shy team are bound to find the back of the net sooner, they are a potent force that could spark into life without prior warning.
The nature of kick-out competitions means any error could be severely punished, and the smallest of margins may prove vital. With the vociferous home crowd backing the Brazilians, Nigeria would perhaps wish to avoid them for as long as possible.
To be the best, however, one must beat the best, and the Mikel John Obi-captained side have shown us thus far that they are capable of overcoming any opponent even when the odds are against them as they proved in the 5-4 win over Japan despite their late arrival in Manaus due to several flight delays and administrative errors.
The Nwankwo Kanu-led team at the Atlanta 1996 Games faced Brazil twice; a 1-0 loss in the group stage before the dramatic 4-3 win in the semi-final when Nigeria twice came from behind to secure a historic victory.