Nigeria a step closer to Olympic gold

Mcelwa Nchabeleng

Mcelwa Nchabeleng

Beijing - On paper Nigeria are favourites to beat Belgium in the semifinals of the men's football tournament of the Beijing Olympics, but the underdogs tag could inspire Jean-Francois de Sart's side to win.

They meet at Shanghai Stadium  at 6pm [noon, SA time] today.

But against Belgium, Nigeria  engage  a team that is highly motivated after edging out Italy 3-2 in the quarterfinals at the Workers Stadium on Saturday. The Italians  were among hot favourites  to win the gold medal.

Nigeria walloped newcomers Ivory Cost 2-0 in a west African derby at QHD Stadium also on Saturday to advance.

Nigeria will rely on their influential captain Victor Obinna who scored one of the goals against Ivory Coast.

Samson Siasia will also bank on Peter Odemwingie, who also scored for the Nigerians in Saturday's clash where top South African referee Jerome Damon was the fourth official.

Nigeria, who are hoping to recapture the 1996 Olympics gold medal glory, also have the likes of Salmon Okoronkwo and Sani Kaita who could prove a handful for Belgium.

But the Nigerians should be wary of Maarten Martens and Kevin Mirallas, who can turn the tables against them.

Nigeria are the only African country remaining in the tournament after Cameroon where also elbowed out in the quarterfinals by pre-tournament favourites Brazil.

Cameroon and Ivory Coast players should demonstrate good African football and neighbourly spirit  by coming to the stadium  to give Nigeria an extra spur from the grandstands. The final will be played on Saturday, with the bronze medal clash taking place on Friday.