Olympic dream is still alive for American Spireite

BATTLING HIS WAY TO THE TOP -- Gboly Ariyibi in action for Chesterfield against Wigan Athletic this season.
BATTLING HIS WAY TO THE TOP -- Gboly Ariyibi in action for Chesterfield against Wigan Athletic this season.
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Spireites’ flying winger Gboly Ariyibi is on the brink of a dream date in Brazil -- as part of the USA’s Olympic Games team.

The 20-year-old American, who has made a big impact at the Proact Stadium this season, has just returned home from his native country where the Concacaf qualifying tournament for Rio took place.

And although his USA side finished third, just missing out on a place in the final, it was enough to put them through to a do-or-die play-off against Colombia next March.

Although one of the youngest players, Ariyibi is an integral part of the American squad for the Olympics tournament which, as at London 2012, is for U23 national teams. And he is brimming with excitement at the prospect of representing his country in Brazil, land of superstars such as Pele and Ronaldo.

“It would be unbelievable to be picked and go to the Olympics,” he said. “The Olympic Games is something every boy watches on TV when growing up. I would love to be a part of it. It would be amazing, I cannot explain the feeling.”

Eight teams tackled the Concacaf qualifiers, which was held at four venues over two weeks. The USA cruised through their qualifying group with a 100% record, beating Canada 3-1, Cuba 6-1 and Panama 4-0.

“I featured in the second match against Cuba, going on for 30 minutes and getting an assist,” said Ariyibi. “Then I played 90 minutes against Panama when one of my crosses was deflected in for an own goal.”

The USA came unstuck in the semi-finals, losing 2-0 to Honduras, who went on to lose 2-0 themselves in the final, against Mexico. But in the play-off for third place, they defeated Canada again, this time 2-0, to set up next year’s decider against Colombia, who were runners-up in the South Amnerican qualifiers.

“The pressure will be on,” Ariyibi admitted. “But I think we will be all right. We have heard that Colombia are a good side, but we have high hopes. It is an opportunity that everyone is up for.”

Ariyibi, who was born in Arlington County, Virginia, arrived at Chesterfield in August last year after spells with Southampton and Leeds United.

His opportunities were limited last season, even though manager Paul Cook always praised his potential as “an exciting young talent”. But this term, he has made ten appearances and feels his career is making rapid progress.

“Dean Saunders has shown faith in me and I am playing a lot more than last season,” he said. “It’s a different atmosphere this season, in a good way, and I still feel we can challenge for promotion. With the players we’ve got, we should be flying.

“Things are going great. The fans have been really good to me, welcoming me and showing good support, home and away. I definitely feel Chesterfield is a club that can go a long way.”

Not as far, though, as Rio de Janeiro, which is where a gold medal could yet be hung round the neck of a Spireites’ hero.