1996, Possibly the greatest match in Nigeria’s football history

March 16, 2020
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July 31st 1996 is an important date to remember in the history of Nigerian football. The country switched on their generators and stayed up late to watch the young U-23 team who had dared to dream.

Prior to the start of the Olympic games, no one expected them to qualify from the group stage. Allowances weren’t paid, our coach was sacked and no African team could ever really compete against the more dominant nations. On this occasion, after getting to the semifinals, Nigeria’s Olympic Eagles were up against the mighty Brazilian team who had the likes of Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo De Lima, Bebeto and Ronaldo De Lima in their team.

They were the tournament’s favorites, and everyone expected them to defeat Nigeria, just as they had defeated every other team they had faced at the Olympics in Greece.

No Nigerian had high expectations for this game, but the players had given so much at the Olympics and Nigerians weren’t going to pass up on the opportunity to watch the talented U-23 team. Their games were always full of entertainment. It was in this tournament that the likes of Kanu, Ikpeba, Amokachi, Amunike and Babayaro announced themselves to the footballing world.

From the moment the game kicked off, Brazil showed their dominance. By the 77th minute, they were already thrashing the Nigerian team 3-1.

With 13 minutes left to play, the game was seemingly over, or so we thought. But then the impossible happened, something that had never been seen in African football.
There was a comeback. The young Nigerian team refused to give up and fought back against the almighty Brazilian team. We went from losing 3-1 to winning 4-3, with Kanu scoring the winning goal.

You needed to have watched the game live to experience that unexpected, unimaginable and unthinkable feeling. No one saw it coming.

They gave every Nigerian a sense of ‘African pride’, whether you watched the game live at the stadium in Atlanta, or at a local bar in Lagos, Nigeria.

It was on the streets in Nigeria that all night parties took over, with bars running out of beer. For most Nigerians, it was the greatest night they had ever experienced. Winning that game spurred the young team on to defeat Argentina in the final and win the 1996 Olympics.

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