05 Aug Nigerians mirror on Tremendous Eagles’ 1996 Olympics victory in Atlanta
Twenty-four years have handed since Nigeria’s Dream Staff claimed Africa’s first Olympic football gold medal, however the occasions of that day in Atlanta proceed to encourage Nigerians and, extra broadly, Africans.
Bedlam broke out on a continent midway internationally when Pierluigi Collina blew the ultimate whistle on the Olympic football match closing on Aug. 3, 1996.
In Nigeria, the place it was the wee hours, hundreds of followers poured into the streets, singing, dancing and doing donuts on bikes and automobiles. In that second, the ambiance was considered one of undiluted celebration. Nigeria had simply change into Olympic champions with a 3-2, come-from-behind victory over Argentina, and the unthinkable had change into actual. Historical past had been made, and the accomplishment affected aspiring footballers of all ages.
Manchester United ahead Odion Ighalo was 7 years outdated on the time.
“Although I used to be very younger when that occurred, I’ve heard rather a lot about it,” Ighalo informed Football4cast. “However I watched the video games later, and it impressed me rather a lot as a result of, if you speak about Nigerian football, folks at all times keep in mind that team.
“It’s even one of many issues our era tried to attain with the nationwide team. And I hope the approaching era can obtain that. They made us proud and comfortable to be Nigerians with what they achieved, and I hope this era may attempt to obtain that.”
Osaze Odemwingie was 15 years outdated, born of a Nigerian father and Russian mom and dwelling in Russia on the time. He says the gold medal impressed his determination to play for Nigeria.
“I used to be in Russia then, in Naberezhnye Chelny, my metropolis, enjoying for Kamaz FC,” he informed Football4cast. “And that is after I made my daring assertion and declaration that I used to be going to play for Nigeria.
“And my boys had been like, ‘yeah, yeah, dream on,’ as a result of they noticed some critical footballers there, some critical abilities. It was superb to observe [Nigeria] beat Brazil after which Argentina with the form of gamers they’d then — Roberto Carlos, Bebeto, Ronaldo …
“Wow, it was superb, in fact, to observe that. And never simply win. Win with traditional football type, nice children. That Olympics impressed me rather a lot.”
Odemwingie is a kind of aspiring gamers who was sufficiently old to observe and be awed by the historical past being made.
Crotone FC ahead Simeon Nwankwo was not so lucky. He was four years outdated on the time, however he bought to see the movies when he was older.
“As a younger child rising up, I beloved enjoying football and all the things, however my dad bought these movies and introduced [them] house for me to observe,” Nwankwo informed Football4cast. “I noticed how my idol, Papilo, terrorized everyone, after which the tales concerning the issues that occurred on the nights of the second and all the things and the way loopy it was.
“That was after I began to really feel how football can unite an entire bunch of individuals, so from that second, all the things modified for me. I began to see football in a different way. I began to really feel like, ‘Sure, I need to have the identical influence that Papilo and the Tremendous Eagles had in Nigeria that day.’
“That yr is one thing that they nonetheless speak about ’til at this time. I needed to be a part of one thing like that, and it was an excellent second for me. That is after I began dreaming on daily basis and each evening to get to that degree the place I can say that I performed within the massive stage.”
Former African Footballer of the Yr Emmanuel Amunike swept house the winner within the five-goal thriller to write down his identify into Nigerian football folklore, however he stays humble.
“I might say I feel we’re grateful for the chance,” he informed Football4cast.
“As a younger participant and an athlete, everyone seems to be nursing their ambition to have the chance to take part within the Olympics and the World Cup. … For us in 1996, having the chance to be a part of that nice team with nice gamers with plenty of expertise was a privilege.”
The style of victory supplies a lesson that Amunike says Nigerian teams should proceed to attract from. The lesson is difficult work, willpower and teamwork.
“Did we count on that we’ll win it?” Amunike stated. “Truly, you’ll be able to by no means know in each journey you are concerned in what may be the end result, however in fact, the essential factor is that we had been decided, and we knew that we had good gamers. … The one factor is how can we discover that widespread floor to play as a team, to defend as a team, to take our probabilities and likewise assault as a team.
“On the finish of the day, we had been in a position to obtain that. So I am grateful for the chance. I am grateful for the event. I am grateful to my nation for giving me the chance to serve them in my very own little means and my very own capability, so I thank God for the chance.”
Amunike, who subsequently led Nigeria to win the FIFA Underneath 17 World Cup as a coach, is happy to know that many gamers had been impressed by the efforts of his team in Atlanta 24 years in the past, and he says African football ought to proceed to construct from there.
“The Olympic gold opened plenty of doorways to Nigerian younger gamers — and to Africa additionally,” he stated. “After we gained in ’96, Cameroon gained the subsequent one [2000 Olympic Games in Sydney] additionally. That was nice for Africa.
“What we have to do now’s to see how we will proceed to develop our gamers, how we will proceed to construct new developments in them, how we will proceed to take our football from one step to a different. I am glad I am a part of the historical past that paved the way in which in terms of football in Africa.”
Odemwingie says the 1996 accomplishments will stay endlessly in Nigerian hearts and heads.
“It was unreal,” he stated. “They at all times will carry an aura round them due to what they’ve achieved of their lives. And that aura would not go anyplace. All different issues can change, however that aura goes to at all times comply with them as a result of they introduced a lot pleasure to folks’s lives.”
That may be a fair larger accomplishment than the gold medals they gained.