Nigeria's long road to Beijing
© AFP

With just over a month to go before the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008, Nigeria begin an odyssey that will take them across the world before they arrive in China for the Games.

The Nigeria U-23 side are known as Dream Team IV, a reference to the American Olympic basketball side who first used the moniker in their bid for gold in Barcelona 1992, four years before Nigeria became the first-ever African side to take one of football's top prizes. This is a measure of the ambition, and self-confident swagger, that Nigeria will take to Beijing, where anything but a medal will spell disaster for coach Samson Siasia and his team.

The side have just completed a 10-day training camp in Portugal at the start of their preparations and are now set to head to Asia, across the Atlantic Ocean via the USA.

There are two warm-up matches set for US shores, both against Uruguay. However, they will not play their American hosts, who are paired in the same Olympic group in Tianjin and Beijing. After their US adventure, the Nigerians will head to South Korea, where Siasia wants his player to acclimatise for 10 days before the final trip onto China.

The warm-up schedule doesn't stop there, either, because before they open their Men's Olympic Football Tournament campaign, Nigeria have arranged a friendly against hosts China. In the competition, they have been paired in the same group as Japan, USA and the Netherlands.

Senior experience
Siasia's preparations over recent weeks have been hampered by the fact that several of his key players have not been available because they have been on senior duty in the FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers. The Super Eagles amassed a four-match winning streak and are the only nation to have made 100 per cent sure of progressing to the final phase of African qualifiers for the 2010 showpiece in South Africa.

The Olympic coach will have been pleased, however, with the international exposure given to strikers Victor Anichebe and Obinna Nsofor and regular game time in defence for the flying full-back Taye Taiwo, whose ability from set pieces is among the most respected in world football.

There is no indication yet from Siasia on which overage players he will be taking to Beijing, although many of Nigeria's full internationals have already publicly stated their desire to be a part of the Olympic adventure. This includes England-based defender Danny Shittu and the veteran midfielder Seyi Olofinjana, who also plays in the second tier of English league football.

More interesting will be the approach over the selection of John Obi Mikel, the undoubted starlet of Nigerian football who ran foul of Siasia when he missed the qualifying campaign after initially indicating he was available for selection. Siasia vowed in March not to pick the Chelsea midfielder but Obi Mikel proved for the senior side in June just how valuable he can be, and the U-23 coach might yet be persuaded to pick him. Also in line for selection are the likes of Promise Isaac and Chrisantus Macaulay, stars at recent FIFA U-20 and U-17 World Cups.

As for Siasia's ambitions, he is making no attempt to downplay the chances of glory. After winning an eight-nation tournament in Malaysia last month, his goal was made crystal-clear: "I have faith in this team that we will conquer the world."