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ThrowBack Thursday: When Nigeria Ruled Olympics Football (1996)

In the midst of the depressing situation and the political crisis which rocked the country in the 90s, Nigerians still found a way to be patriotic enough to root for the Super Eagles team when they played the final match against Argentina on 3rd August 1996. Our joy was boundless when the final whistle was blown by the referee, and the victory of the team dawned on Nigerians home and abroad. Just for that momentous victory, all Nigerians came together to celebrate such hard-won feat at the historic event of the Olympics, something quite uncommon in our collective history as a nation.

Skeptics and pessimists who never believed anything good could come out of the Abacha led junta were surprised as how events took a sharp positive turn in a jiffy. Perhaps they had forgotten the principle that good things oftentimes do come out of the least expected places. Many were only reminded at that wild moment that the white pap comes out of the black pot. The turn of events on that glorious evening of August 3rd, 1996 surely changed the story of Nigerian optimism and pride for good.

Significantly, Nigeria’s team for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta contained quite a number of players who had either graced the World Cup, the African Nations Cup or had been on the waiting list for some time. The winning squad, nevertheless, had Celestine Babayaro, Taribo West, Nwankwo Kanu, Uche Okechukwu, Emmanuel Amunike, Tijani Babangida, Wilson Oruma, Teslim Fatusi, Jay-Jay Okocha, Victor Ikpeba, Abiodun Obafemi, Garba Lawal, Daniel Amokachi, Sunday Oliseh, Mobi Oparaku, and Joseph Dosu as members under the coach, Dutchman Jo Bonfrere.

After beating the dreaded Brazilian team to 4 – 3 at the semi-final match, the Nigerian team qualified for the finals to face another terrific opponent. At the final match against Argentina at the Sanford Stadium in Athens, Greece, Nigeria won by a margin of 3 – 2, with a last minute goal scored by Emmanuel Amuneke. As reported by the media and other witnesses, it was said that beer cartons stacked in beer parlours were exhausted by night of that day.

23 years later, on 4th April 2019, the Dream Team was properly recognized by the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) for their terrific performance in African Nations Cup and the World Cup in 1994. They were celebrated as the heroes that they are and for setting the pace at the world stage for other Nigerian teams which are to come and which would later win at peak tournaments.

We would, after all, need to imbibe a culture of celebrating heroes and representatives who do us proud at the national and world stage – both in male sports, female sports and in other competitions. It is not only the proper thing to do but it is also a natural motivator for dreamers and shakers who will come forth to put our national identity on the world map.

There is undeniable evidence that sports greatly unites us as a people, in Nigeria. If religion or our tendency to believe in a Supreme Being – save for atheists – still struggles to achieve a purpose of uniting us as humans, perhaps, sports such as football can do much more in bringing us together for the common goal of humanity, taking us to the zenith of unity and peaceful co-existence. 

Source: Guardian Nigeria

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Macaddy Gad

Macaddy is mostly a farmer in the day who also dabbles into technology at night, in search of other cutting edge intersections. He's on Twitter @i_fix_you

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