NIGERIA faced Brazil twice en route to winning the Gold Medal at the Atlanta ’96 Olympic football tournament. This is how COMPLETE FOOTBALL INTERNATIONAL chronicled the historic matches for posterity……
Group Phase: Nigeria 0, Brazil 1
Samba Boys Give Nigerian Supporters A Cold Welcome
NIGERIA arrived at the Orange Bowl Stadium in Miami to an intimidating welcome from Brazilian supporters who had virtually taken over a venue where their team had played all its games so far.
By contrast, the Nigerian team drove (by bus) into Miami from Orlando (where they had beaten Japan 2-0 in their second game) only two days before. Worse, the Nigerian supporters arrived from Lagos only moments before the match.
So, Nigeria were effectively the “away team” in what was supposed to be a neutral ground and “home team” Brazil quickly made it tell, scoring the lone goal of the match through Ronaldinho (Ronaldo to the rest of the soccer world) in the first half while the Nigerians were still trying to settle down. Lucky for Brazil they scored the time they did because, by the second half when the Nigerians got going, the Brazilians were barely able to hold on to their one-goal advantage.
“We didn’t settle down on time,” explained stopper Taribo West after the match. “And when we finally did in the second half, our strikers missed a lot of scoring chances. The worst we should have got from this match was a draw. We are all disappointed by this loss.”
West’s and his colleagues disappointment was nothing compared with the pain and anguish suffered by their supporters. For decades, Brazil had always beaten Nigeria (and heavily too!) at major competitions, and the fans were hoping the “Dream Team’ would avenge the country. “We took great pains to arrive here for this match, but we were welcome with a defeat,” said the supporters chairman, Rafiu Ladipo. “This is not a good welcome at all. We are not happy at all.”
Luckily for Nigeria, though, they qualified for the quarter-final despite the loss and their next opponent would be Mexico whom they beat 2-0 to set up a second confrontation with Brazil in the semi-final.
July 25, 1996 – Miami, Florida
BRAZIL 1 (Ronaldinho 22),
HT: 1-0. Att: 55,650. Ref: Baharmast (US).
Brazil: Dida, Ze Maria, Aldair, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Ze Elias, flavio
Conceicao, Juninho, Rivaldo (Amaral 71), Bebeto, Ronaldinho (Savio 83)
Nigeria: Joseph Dosu, Abiodun Obafemi (Garba Lawal 47), Taribo West,
Uche Okechukwu, Mobi Oparaku, Sunday Oliseh, Austin Okocha,
Emmanuel Amuneke, (Victor Ikpeba 63), Daniel Amokachi, Nwankwo Kanu,
Tijjani Babangida (Teslim Fatusi 81). Coach: Jo Bonfrere.
Semi-Final: Brazil 3, Nigeria 4
Nwankwo Kanu Crashes the Latin Party
EVEN before the semi-final matches were decided, most soccer pundits around the world had penned down Brazil and Argentina for the Olympic soccer final.
On Tuesday, July 30 at the Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia, Argentina fulfilled the first part of the script with a 2-0 defeat of Portugal in the first semi-final.
The following day, Wednesday, July 31 at the same venue, however, Brazil failed to fulfill their part as they were shocked 4-3 in extra time by a party-spoiling Nigerian side in the second semi-final. Coming from 3-1 down at the end of the first half, the Nigerian ‘Dream Team’ pulled off one of the most remarkable come-backs in soccer history to tear the form-books to shreds.
Argentina had left the pundits beating their chest after dismissing the Portuguese in front of 78,212 fans. Both countries had earlier played a 1-1 draw when they met in a first round match in Group A. But, thereafter, the Argies had moved up a gear in performance as evidenced by their 4-0 thrashing of Spain in the quarter-final while Portugal only struggled to a lucky 2-1 win over France. When the replay came, therefore, the South Americans were odds on to win and they didn’t fail.
Following a goalless first half, number nine shirt Hernan Crespo hit Portugal for two in the 50th and 62nd minutes to set Argentina on the way to the final. That brought Crespo’s tally to five goals in the tournament and, try as much as the Portuguese did, they couldn’t reduce the deficit much less cancel it before American referee Esfandiar Bahamast called it a day.
Brazil looked as if they would also make a short-work of Nigeria in the second semi-final when midfielder Flavio Da Conceicao put them in front from a free-kick only two minutes into the game. Full-back Celestine Babayaro brought the Africans back in contention when his shot was deflected in by Roberto Carlos for a Brazilian own-goal in the 20th minute. But two further goals by Bebeto (27th) and Conceicao (37th) put the world champions back in the driving seat with a two-goal lead at half time.
Ronaldinho put the ball in the Nigerian net again soon after re-start and that might have sounded the death knell for the Africans, but Spanish referee Garcia Aranda over-ruled the ‘goal’ for off-side. Nigeria then got a chance to get back into the game when workaholic striker Daniel Amokachi was fouled in the Brazilian box in the 75th minute. Aranda gave a penalty kick but when Austin Okocha shot tamely into the hands of Dida in goal for Brazil, everyone must have given up on the Nigerian team at that stage. But then began their dramatic resurgence.
First in the 78th minute, Victor Ikpeba riffled home an Amokachi pass first time, leaving Dida standing and throwing the game wide open again. Then, team captain Nwankwo Kanu lifted a ball from a scramble in the Brazilian box and scored a dramatic equalizer in the 90th minute while Dida was groping thin air.
The Brazilians were yet to fully recover from the shock of losing their two goal lead when extra time got under way. Still, they were the first to go into attack, but the effort found the side-netting. When Nigeria countered, however, the final ball found the feet of Kanu who rounded Aldair in the last line of the Brazilian defence before cracking home a left-foot drive.
The Nigerian revival was complete and Kanu was the hero. The Brazilians never knew what hit them, and the all-knowing pundits were forced to rewrite their previews for the final. Nigeria had spoilt the Latin party!
July 31, 1996 – Athens, Georgia
NIGERIA 4 (Carlos o.g 3, Ikpeba 77, Kanu 90, 94)
BRAZIL 3 (Flavio Conceicao 2, 37, Bebeto 28)
HT: 1-3; FT: 3-3. ET: 4-3. Ref: Garcia Aranda (Spa)
*Nigeria win with a golden goal in extra-time.
Nigeria: Joseph Dosu, Celestine Babayaro, Taribo West, Uche Okechukwu,
Mobi Oparaku, (Wilson Oruma 8), Austin Okocha, Garba Lawal,
Tijjani Babangida, (Teslim Fatusi, 66), Nwankwo Kanu, Emmanuel Amuneke,
(Victor Ikpeba 46), Daniel Amokachi. Coach: Jo Bonfrere.
Brazil: Dida, Ze Maria, Ronaldo, Aldair, Roberto Carlos, Flavio, Conceicao,
Amaral, Ze Elias, Juninho, (Rivaldo 65), Bebeto, Ronaldinho (Savio 84).
POST SCRIPT: After eliminating Brazil in the semi-final, Nigeria went on to beat Argentina 3-2 in the final to complete a historic double over the two South American giants and grab Africa’s FIRST Olympic Soccer Gold Medal.