1996: Nigeria’s First Olympic Gold Medal Campaign

In the year, 1996. Nigeria stunned the whole world by winning gold at the Atlanta Olympic Games, despite the odds against them. The team’s story is told in a new documentary, “Super Eagles 96.

The Olympic football tournament, which took place in Atlanta, USA, hosted a lot of football icons and legends, including the likes of Ronaldo, Raul, and just some of the many aspiring young footballers who are hoping to add a gold medal to their trophy collections.

But despite the fact that World Cup holders Brazil and reigning Olympic champion Spain both competed in the tournament, it was Nigeria’s Under-23 side that would later find a way to claim Africa’s first ever Olympic gold in football.

The tournament started on a perfect note for the Nigerian side as they defeated Hungary 1:0 in their first match of the tournament. The only goal of the game was scored by then, Arsenal forward, Nwankwo Kanu.

The second match wasn’t as easy as the first, but they somehow managed to win, edging past Japan after scoring two late goals, the second of which was scored by Jay-Jay Okocha.

Nigeria faced defeat in their third match of the competition against a strong Brazilian side, who were then the current World Cup holders. Ronaldo’s sole goal was enough to give the Nigerians their first defeat of the tournament.

But despite suffering defeat at the hands of the Brazilians, the African giants managed to progress to the knockout stages due to a superior goal difference.

In the quarterfinals, Nigeria was drawn with a strong Mexico side, but they weren’t strong enough for the Nigerians, as they were defeated 2:0 with Jay-Jay Okocha and Celestine Babayaro scoring the two goals.

For the second time in the tournament, Nigeria was to play South American giants, Brazil in the semi final.

With less than 15 minutes to go, Nigeria was trailing 3:1 and was getting ready to be out of the tournament, but a beautiful goal from Victor Ikpeba in the 78th minute gave the Nigerians a little bit of hope, and just as the extra time began, Nwankwo Kanu scored an equaliser to send the game into extra time.

But it was not called over yet, Kanu came up again to score the golden goal that sent the Nigerian side to the much anticipated Olympic match final. The goal devastated the Brazilian side, who were considered the favourites to win the competition. But it brought great and immense joy to the Nigerians, who now have their dream of winning their first ever gold medal in sight.

When interviewed after the win, Jay-Jay Okocha said, “This means everything to Nigeria. Football is the one thing in Nigeria that brings us together, For the people back in my country, this is maybe the happiest day of their lives.”

After their miraculous win against Brazil in the semi final, the Nigerians were once again drawn with a South American heavyweight, Argentina.

The match was full of so much intensity. It was a game not just for Nigeria alone, but for the whole of the African continent, which relied on the Nigerians to make them proud.

Argentina took the lead twice in the game, but the relentless Nigerians leveled the score twice. And in the 90th minute, the unthinkable happened. Emmanuel Amunike fired home the winner in the 90th minute.

The goal plunged the Nigerians and the whole of the African continent into a great joy and happiness as they finally secured the first African team to win gold at the Olympic football tournaments.

The accomplishment was a fitting triumph for the Nigerian side known as the ‘Dream Team’, who managed to wake up the entire continent with an unforgettable football campaign that defied all the odds and all expectations.

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