The Nigerian ’96 Olympic Dream Team was the Men’s football team that made history by being the first African gold medalists at the Olympics event. It was the most successful run that Nigeria, and Africa as a whole, have ever had in the Men’s football category of the Olympic Games.
August 3rd 1996 is a day that is forever engrained in the memory of African football enthusiasts especially those who were around to witness the historic first soccer gold medal win at the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, by the Nigerian Super Eagles “Dream Team”.
Prior to the Super Eagles’ amazing feat at the ’96 Olympics, African teams had labored to win any kind of medals dating back to 1920 when Egypt were the first to represent the continent in the Olympic Football Tournament .
The Pharaohs of Egypt lost the third-place classification to the then East Germany at the 1964 Games in Tokyo while other notable headlines included that of Zambia pummeling Italy 4-0 in one of their preliminary group matches at the1998 Games in Seoul; and there was also a historic Bronze medal for the Black Meteors of Ghana at the Barcelona 1992 Olympics Games.
Four years later, however, it was the Nigerian U-23 Super Eagles who would successfully put Africa on the biggest pedestal at the Olympic Games- the Gold Medal table.
The squad included members of the Super Eagles team that remarkably won the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) In Tunisia, and were the reigning Champions Of Africa.
The Super Eagles Dream Team then put up an excellent display against Brazil, a footballing giant and the most successful in the game
That game against the South Americans was regarded as the final-before-final and by 78th minute, the seemingly indomitable Brazilian side complete with the like of Ronaldo, Bebeto were leading Nigeria by 3-1. But the Super Eagles managed to turn the results around in the last few minutes of the game.
Striker Victor Ikpeba soon struck a lively shot past goalkeeper Dida to reduce the tally to 3-2 and almost in regulation time, Nwankwo Kanu popped the ball up to knee level before drilling it between defenders Aldair and Ronaldo Guira for the equalizer. And in the fourth minute of extra time, Kanu again delivered the ‘golden goal’ to set Nigeria against another South American super power, Argentina for the Gold Medal Match.
Kanu Nwankwo, who was later given the African Footballer of the Year Award, had said of the match, in an interview:
“The pressure was really on us when we got to the semi-finals to meet Brazil again because they had beaten us (1-0) in the Group stage; we wanted to give everything but nobody believed we could turn things around after we went down at 3-1 towards the end of the match.
“Beating Brazil was very important and it was like we had already won the trophy though we were yet to play the final against Argentina; winning the gold medal brought peace to our country because there was so much problem on ground at that period (following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential elections) but after we won, nobody was talking about politics but football,”
The Super Eagles Dream Team had a great final outing as Amuneke rose from the substitute bench to score the vital winning goal in 90th minute for a 3-2 win before a near capacity 86,117 spectators at the Sanford Stadium in Athens , Georgia.
Emmanuel Amuneke, who scored the ever-famous winning goal that won the gold medal, has said of the competition, and its impact on him:
“I will always be grateful for the opportunity to represent my country at the Olympics which as you know, comes every four years and being able to score the winning goal against Argentina will forever be in my memory,” .
By Oluwamayowa Akinyemi
Oluwamayowa Akinyemi is a digital and web content developer with experience in web content development and management as well as research and writing. He is an avid reader of random subject matters and a sucker for movies and video games. He is also passionate about youth empowerment and is a global affairs analyst and enthusiast.