Nigerian football has seen some incredible moments that has made citizens put aside ethnic affiliations and celebrate in unity. One of those epic moments was the semi-final match of the male football category at the 1996 Olympic Games hosted in the United States.
The time zone difference between Nigeria and the host nation, US, meant many football faithfuls in Nigeria had to stay awake at the late hours of the night to see the Dream Team in their traditional green and white jersey file out against their Brazilian opponents in the July 31, 1996 encounter.
The game did not start all rosy for the Nigerian team as the Brazilians took the lead in the first minute of the encounter through a Flavio Conceicao goal. The African giants would finish the first half trailing the Brazilian side by 3-1. Former Nigerian international, Taribo West, who was a key figure for the Olympic Eagles recounts:
We knew that in the first half of that game, we had played very poorly…But the key to our comeback in the second half was our extraordinary determination. The voice of the leaders came up in the dressing room. We won that match in the dressing room. Fortunately, we had Daniel Amokachi, Sunday Oliseh and Uche Okechukwu. It was a big advantage for us.Taribo West
In the 78th minute of the tie, Victor Ikpeba, who would go on to be voted Africa Footballer of the Year in 1997, reduced the goal deficit after scoring Nigeria’s second goal. Despite a penalty miss from midfield legend Jay Jay Okocha in the dying minutes of the fixture, the team did not give up as fans’ favourite, Nwankwo Kanu, popularly known as Papilo levelled the scores with an equalizer in the 90th minute, forcing the match into extra time.
Kanu was not finished with the game yet, with four minutes into the extra time, he netted his second goal, gifting Nigeria the victory, and completing his exceptional display.
Back home, Nigerians were sent into frenzy, singing victory songs with the popular catch phrase, When Nigeria beat Brazil! The football world was left in awe because it was hard to believe that the West African side could emerge victorious against a Brazilian side comprised of popular stars like Bebeto, Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo, who were part of the 1994 FIFA World Cup victorious Brazilian team. The Dream Team would go on to beat another South American nation, Argentina, in the final game.
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