All4All Blog take a look at the historic Nigerian Olympic victory over Argentina in the final of the 1996 Games, and what it means today...
Nigeria's famous Olympic Gold in the the 1996 final was not just the culimination of a thrilling Games, but in fact the conclusion of a rivalry that in fact started earlier. What's more, it was proof that European and South American sides were no longer the only ones worth watching on the global stage...
Nigeria's mid-90s squad was of considerable strength. At the 1994 World Cup (pictured) the Super Eagles finished top of a tough group - one that contained would-be semi-finalists Bulgaria - before being edged out by eventual finalists Italy in the knockout stages. As well as losing to the Italians, there was another defeat for the Nigerians - against Argentina.
Samson Siasia had put the Super Eagles ahead after just eight minutes of play, but two quickfire goals from Claudio Caniggia midway through the first half kept the albiceleste in the competition for another round at least. Thus when the two sides were thrown together at the Games two years later, Nigeria were on a revenge mission - one in which they were deemed underdogs.
Argentina's fans, meanwhile, expected their heroes to put the humiliation of second round elimination in the USA two years prior well and truly behind them. Nigeria, having been beaten at that tournament, were judged to be second best to an Argentina side that had gone without losing. There were question marks over group stage draws with Tunisia and Portugal, but overall Daniel Passarella's men had impressed, not least with a 4-0 mauling of Spain in the quarter-finals and a 2-0 win over Portugal in the semis.
Nigeria, meanwhile, had taken took a circuitous route to the final. After a hard-fought win over Hungary, they made hard work of unfancied Japan before losing out to Brazil in their final group game.
They then overcame Mexico in fairly routine circumstances, setting up a clash with Brazil. The South Americans, with a certain Ronaldo in their ranks, had just eliminated Ghana, leaving the Nigerians as the sole remaining African force.
After going 3-1 down by the 40th minute it seemed as if the tournament was over for the Super Eagles, but Victor Ikpeba and Nwankwo Kanu had different ideas as they hit a late goal apiece to force extra time. Poetically enough, Kanu then managed the golden goal just four minutes into the extended perior to seal an historic win for his side.
Then, of course, came the final.
The Big Game
The Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia, is more suited to hosting American football, but with what was essentially a capacity crowd packed in on August 3rd it was, at least temporarily, a soccer city. The locals had already witnessed both of the semi-finals and the bronze medal game (a rejuvenated Brazil won that one 5-0) and as such appetite for one more game was real.
Passarella's men came out swinging. Carlos 'Piojo' Lopez opened the scoring after just three minutes, but, just as against Brazil, Nigeria played the role of comeback kings. Nigeria responded through Celestine Babayaro, who ensured that the scores would be level at half time.
Five minutes after the break, though, Taribo West conceded a needless penalty that Hernán Crespo coolly struck home, and Argentina were in control.
Yet with fifteen minutes to go Daniel Amokachi struck the equaliser with a delicious little lob , and another period of extra time loomed.
Passarella had other ideas. Eager not to take part in the lottery of the 'golden goal', he pushed his defence far up the pitch to force the attacking issue.
The Nigerian defence, withering under the pressure, soon enjoyed a moment of great fortune that was to decide the game in their favour. Hitting on the break down the left, they won a free-kick out at the edge of the goal area. As the ball swung in, it looked as though the Argentines timed their offside runs perfectly, but no whistle and no flag came to their rescue. Alone facing goal, there was Emmanuel Amuneke to seal the gold medal with mere seconds remaining on the clock.
Argentina were furious with referee Pierluigi Collina's decision to award that final goal, but nonetheless it stood, and Nigeria had their gold medal. Whether or not they'd have gone on to win without that third goal is a question for the ages, and there were more than a few recriminations to come over the coming months from the unhappy albiceleste.
Twelve years on, Nigeria have lost some of their prominence on the world stage, but the albiceleste are as bright as they were then. Who will prevail this time? Samson Siasia, a medal-winner at that tournament, will look for his second piece of gold: Argentina, perhaps justifiably, will seek revenge.