Atlanta Olympic games: How Nigeria became the first African Nation to win the Gold Medal 27 years ago

In 1996, Nigeria became the first-ever African team to win gold at the football event of the Olympic Games having achieved such a feat in Atlanta, USA.

The incredible skills of Austin of Jay Jay Okocha, the backflip of Celestine Babayaro and the sensational last-minute equalizer by Kanu Nwankwo against Brazil, the list goes on.

Before that tournament, some of the players showed what they were capable of at the 1994 FIFA World Cup where they finished top of their group, only to controversially lose to eventual runners-up Italy in the second round.

A huge percentage of the squad members were part of the team that won the 1993 FIFA U17 World Cup in Japan, and they were already of age in 1996.

The 1996 Olympic Games saw some remarkable upsets in world football as Nigeria defeated Brazil and Argentina on their path to glory.

Brazil had the likes of Ronaldo, Bebeto, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos and a host of others, while Argentina had future legends like Ariel Ortega, Javier Zanetti, Hernan Crespo and Matías Almeyda.

How did Nigeria pull off the stunt?

The Dream Team’s biggest win of that competition was undoubtedly in the semifinal against the star-studded Brazilian team. Kanu recalled, as per Tribune.

“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 were so many problems on the 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.”

After conceding a goal in the first minute of the encounter, Nigeria had to come from three goals down to win 4-3. Kanu Nwankwo intelligently grabbed a last-minute equalizer and then finished off in extra time when he scored the golden goal, sealing an unforgettable victory for Nigeria.

It was the end of the road for Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Bebeto and Roberto Carlos, as Nigeria marched on into the final.

Nigeria went on to beat Argentina in the final, but they had to do it the hard way as well.

The South Americans were already 2-1 up but Daniel Amokachi equalised in the 74th minute Emmanuel Amunike beat the offside trap to score in the minute as it ended 3-2 in favour of the Africans.

Who were the key players?

No doubt, Kanu Nwankwo was among the stand-out performers. Jay Jay Okocha and Emmanuel Amuneke were superb as well. But Sunday Oliseh gave credit to Wilson Oruma for the success.

In a review of his book, Audacity to Refuse, during a special podcast by YouTube channel ATHLST, which was anchored by Matthew Edafe, former national team captain Oliseh said:

“Wilson Oruma… if he was not in that team, we wouldn’t win the Olympics gold. .When you’re talking of MVP of Olympics, it was Wilson Oruma.

“It was his coming in the semifinal (against Brazil) that gave us victory. It was his coming in in the final that gave us victory.”


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