It’s the same old story at major football tournaments.
Germany, Brazil, Argentina, France, Italy… rinse and repeat. But back in the summer of 1996 something miraculous happened – Nigeria upset the odds to lift a major sporting trophy.
The Olympic men’s football tournament might not hold the same pull as the World Cup, but you only need to look at Brazil’s obsession with grabbing gold (it’s the only tournament they haven’t won) to see that it matters.
Nigeria’s Super Eagles of ’96 went all the way in Atlanta, becoming the first African nation to win the Olympics. They overturned Argentina with a dramatic last-minute goal from Emmanuel Amunike to do the impossible. The same nations met 12 years later in Beijing but this time Argentina won thanks to a solitary goal from Angel Di Maria.
Nigeria 96’s incredible achievement – beating an Argentina team containing Javier Zanetti, Hernan Crespo and Ariel Ortega – seems to have slipped through the cracks of football history.
With Rio 2012 fast approaching, now feels like as good a time as any to revisit Nigeria’s outstanding Olympic winners. Here’s what the starting XI – and the eventual match-winner – did after that moment of glory in Atlanta…
A goalkeeper with Julius Berger in Nigeria, Dosu earned a move to Serie A side Reggiana after Olympics glory but never made a first-team appearance for the club. A car accident forced him to hang up his gloves at 23 and he went into coaching in 2009 with the Lagos-based Westerlo Football Academy.
A pacy, skilful full-back, Babayaro made a name for himself in the Premier League with Chelsea and Newcastle. He picked up several trophies for Chelsea, including a league champions medal during Jose Mourinho’s first spell at the club, but his time on Tyneside wasn’t so glittering. He finished his career at Los Angeles Galaxy in 2008 and fell on hard times post-football. He was declared bankrupt in 2011.
A commanding central defender, West played at the highest level in Europe – with Auxerre and both Milan clubs – before a brief loan spell with Derby County in the early noughties. Remarkably, he also turned out four times for Plymouth Argyle before playing in Iran. West was at the centre of an age controversy in 2006 when a medical at Croatian side Rijeka suggested he could be up to 12 years older than he claimed.
This man surely needs no introduction. King Kanu became an icon at Ajax and Inter Milan before joining Arsenal and becoming part of their 2003/04 Invincibles side. He later played for West Brom and Portsmouth, netting the winning goal in the FA Cup final for Harry Redknapp in 2008. He also captained Nigeria to their historic Olympics victory in 1996.
A central defender who spent 13 years playing in Turkey, Okechukwu won 46 caps for Nigeria and played for them in two World Cups and the African Cup of Nations. He retired after the 1998 World Cup having served as Nigeria’s captain on several occasions.
A lightning-fast winger, Babangida joined Ajax just after their 1995 European Cup victory to tear up Eredivisie defences. Capped 36 times by his country, he played in two World Cups but spent much of his international career battling with Finidi George for the wide-right berth. He’s still in the game now, working as an agent.
A midfielder blessed with silky skills that put many Brazilians to shame, Okocha was a stand-out player for Nigeria in World Cups, the Olympics and African Cups of Nations campaigns. He did the business in Europe, too, turning out for Eintracht Frankfurt, Fenerbahçe and Paris Saint-Germain. He’s perhaps most famous in England for playing an integral part in Sam Allardyce’s great relegation escape with Bolton Wanderers. He was also in the Hull City squad promoted to the Premier League in 2008. Now, Okocha is pursuing the presidency of the Nigerian Football Association.
An impressive goalscorer for RFC de Liège and Monaco throughout the 90s, Ikpeba made a pricey (for the time) £4.8 million switch to Borussia Dortmund in 1999 but found life tough in the Bundesliga. He never managed to recapture the form that made him African Footballer of the Year in 1997, and now resides in Monaco. Manchester United fans may remember him as the man who scored the goal to knock them out of the Champions League in 1998.
A prolific goalscorer for Club Brugge in Belgium, Amokachi was a big money signing for Everton and eventual FA Cup winner with the Toffees. Never prolific in the Premier League, he made the switch to Beşiktaş in Turkey before winding up his playing career back in Nigeria in 2005. Amokachi also spent seven years as Nigeria’s assistant manager and was interim boss in 2015. He’s now in charge at Finnish side JS Hercules.
A tough-tackling defensive midfielder who notched up stints for Reggiana, FC Koln, Ajax, Juventus and Borussia Dortmund, Oliseh played more than 50 times for his country, which included the 1994 and 1998 World Cup runs. Oliseh even managed Nigeria, but he brought his seven-month spell to an end in February this year, quitting over contract violations and unpaid wages.
A defender who played in Belgium, the US and Nigeria, Oparaku won eight caps for his nation over a seven-year period. He retired while on the books of Enyimba International FC in 2010. Oparaku hit the headlines in 2013 for sad reasons, suffering an unexplained attack by armed policemen.
The Olympics 1996 match-winner, Amunike was a tricky left-winger who played in the 1994 World Cup. His career was largely hampered by injury, but he still managed to play at the highest level for Sporting CP and Barcelona. Now, Amunike is shaping the Super Eagles’ future as manager of Nigeria’s U17 team.