Nigeria can always take pride on being the first African side to win the Olympic gold, a feat they achieved at Atlanta in 1996. It was a fantastic achievement, made possible by a golden generation of talented players including Jay-Jay Okocha, Wilson Oruma, Daniel Amokachi and Nwankwo Kanu. Having graduated from their section, they beat Mexico 2-0 in the quarter-finals before coming up against a Brazil featuring Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Bebeto and Rivaldo. The two rivals played out a thrilling encounter, which the Nigerians won 4-3 after extra-time to set up a final against Argentina. Hernan Crespo, Javier Zanetti, Juan Sebastian Veron and Roberto Ayala all starred for the South Americans, but Nigeria emerged victorious as Emmanuel Amunike's last-gasp effort earned them a 3-2 success.
In contrast to Cameroon and Côte d'Ivoire, who stamped their tickets a match early, Nigeria had to wait until their final encounter with South Africa to go through. They did it in style, though, triumphing 3-0 to leave fellow Group A heavyweights Ghana missing out on the main event. Now, as they prepare for Beijing, the spine of their U-23 team is made up of the U-20 side, also coached by Samson Siasia, that finished runners-up to Lionel Messi's Argentina at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Netherlands 2005.
As Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria possesses without doubt the continent's greatest reservoir of talent. Many players come into contention for a call-up, and the passage is smooth from the youth sides to the U-21s and then to the senior team. As a result, gifted players such as Promise Isaac and Ayodele Adeleye can be expected to feature at the highest level of the international game before very long.
Facts and figures
Rashidi Yekini, Samson Siasia (1988), Nwankwo Kanu, Denis Oliseh, Daniel Amokachi (1996), Godwin Okpara, Celestine Babayaro (2000).
Victor Anichebe, Obina Nsofor (forwards), Promise Isaac (defence).
Thrown in at the deep end with Ghana and South Africa, the Super Eaglets finished the third round of qualifiers with a record of two wins, two draws, seven goals scored and three conceded.
The numbers game
6: The number of times Nigeria have appeared in the Men's Olympic Football Tournament.
|7||Chinedu OGBUKE OBASI|