Nigeria U23 coach Austin Eguavoen admits to pressure

By Nick CavellBBC Sport, Tangiers
Austin Eguavoen
Eguavoen admits Nigeria are in a tough group for the U23 qualifying tournament

Nigeria's Under-23 coach Austin Eguavoen admits they are under pressure to qualify for the men's Olympic football tournament.

They are among the eight nations taking part in the first-ever Africa Under-23 Championship in Morocco from Saturday.

The top three sides will go to the London Olympics next year.

With the Super Eagles failing to qualify for the 2012's Africa Cup of Nations, Eguavoen's young side carries the hopes of a nation.

"You can't say we aren't under pressure - I'm under severe pressure but I have been under pressure before and I've been able to deal with it," Eguavoen told BBC Sport.

"The main difference is this is the only thing left and all eyes are here now and that makes it a little more difficult.

"I think we've got the talent and so we will take things as they come."

However, the coach feels that the pressure will be off them a little for the tournament's opening game as they take on hosts Morocco on Saturday.

"They'll be under more pressure than we are because they are at home and its the first game of the tournament," Eguavoen said.

"In any tournament the first game is very, very important. If you get something from the first game you have more confidence going into the other games.

"If you don't get something from the first game you put yourself under more pressure.

"We need to get a win against Morocco and once we get they we won't have any problems."

Nigeria were the first African side to win gold at the Olympics in 1996 and Eguavoen remain optimistic in his team's ability to to qualify for the 2012 event.

Despite missing several key players such as Ahmed Musa and Lukman Haruna the coach is confident he has the squad to get to the Olympics.

"We are blessed with talented players and we have been letting them know this is an opportunity for them to show what they have in them," he said.

"So I think they are really ready to go, I think we have a good enough team to qualify."

After the Morocco game, Nigeria will face Senegal and Algeria - with the top two going through to the semi-finals.

As well as the top three going to the Olympics the fourth-placed side in Morocco will play an Asian team for another spot at the Olympics.

Egypt are in Group A with Gabon, South Africa and Ivory Coast.

The top two teams in each group will advance to the semi finals before Africa's representatives for the tournament are known.

Cameroon are the other African side to have won gold at the Olympics and they achieved their feat in Sydney in 2000.