Tagged ‘Dream Team’, the West Africans with six players from the Super Eagles squad that won the Africa Cup of Nations two years earlier in Tunisia progressed from their preliminary Group D section losing only 1-0 to Brazil after wins over Hungary (1-0) and Japan (2-0).
But ‘it’s not over until it is over’ as Victor Ikpeba soon struck a lively shot past goalkeeper Dida to reduce the tally to 3-2 and almost in regulation time, Nwankwo Kanu popped the ball up to knee level before drilling it between defenders Aldair and Ronaldo Guira for the equalizer. In the fourth minute of extra time, Kanu again struck the ‘golden goal’ to set a date with Argentina in the final.
“We had a lot of characters and quality players in the team which really helped us a great deal in Atlanta,” Kanu, captain, who was later bestowed with the honour of 1996 African Footballer of the Year, told CAFOnline.com.
“Winning the football gold Medal and being the first team to do that from Africa in Atlanta was special but I think it was more than that. The pressure was really on us when we got to the semi-finals to meet Brazil again because they had beaten us (1-0) at the Group stage. We wanted to give everything but nobody believed we could turn things around after we went down 3-1 towards the end of the match.
“Beating Brazil was very important and it was like we had already won the trophy though we were yet to play the final against Argentina. Winning the Gold Medal brought peace to our country because there were many problems on ground at that period (following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential elections). After we won, nobody was talking about politics but football,” Kanu observed.
Reflecting on Nigeria’s historic win in Atlanta, Emmanuel Amuneke who scored the winner in the final against Argentina, which ended 3-2 in favour of the West Africans described the occasion as momentous.
“We had high hopes going to the Olympics because we had a very great team at the time. Players with experience of winning the African Cup of Nations (in Tunisia 1994) and those who were also at the World Cup in the United States,” revealed Amuneke, 1994 African Footballer of the Year and now coach, guiding Nigeria to win a record fifth FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile last year.
“I was not at my best as I was injured in the match against Japan and I started from the bench against Argentina; but God favoured me to score the winning the goal in the final match in Atlanta. That is an unforgettable moment for me and Nigerians”, Amuneke said.
Twenty (20) years down the lane, CAFOnline.com provides a glimpse of the current status of members of the history-making team.
“We are still very much in contact with each other after playing together in Atlanta," said Amuneke, now a UEFA Pro-Licence holder.
Soon after the Olympics, Amuneke played his part in powering the Super Eagles to a second successive World Cup appearance in France in 1998, but failed to make the party due to injury, which stalled his Barcelona career and he eventually retired after brief stint at Jordanian side, Al-Wehdat Sports Club in 2004.
Thereafter, Amuneke started his coaching career with his boyhood club, Julius Berger and also tinkered with the Ocean Boys in the domestic league. He also served as a TV pundit with Al Jazeera before joining the Nigeria national team coaching set up and was an assistant when Nigeria won the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates before guiding the Golden Eaglets to the ultimate in a substantive role in Chile in 2015.
Midfield enforcer, Sunday Oliseh was until last February head coach of the Super Eagles. Capped 52 times, Oliseh succeeded goalkeeper Peter Rufai as captain of the national team and led them to win the ilver at the 2000 AFCON co-hosted by Ghana and Nigeria. One of few African holders of the UEFA Pro-License, he has served Technical Study Group member at various FIFA competitions.
Other members of the Atlanta' 96 Olympic squad that have switched to coaching after their hanging their boots include Daniel Amokachi and Kingsley Obiekwu. Amokachi, is currently at the helm of JS Herclues (a semi-professional club in Finland). Besides spells with the Super Eagles as assistant coach, he also had stints with Nasarawa United, Enyimba and Ifeanyi Ubah on the domestic front.
Also trying his hands at coaching is Obiekwu- popularly called ‘Shagari’ due to his towering presence in the heart of defence during his heydays in the shirts of Enugu Rangers. He recently quit his post in charge of second-tier side, Delta Force.
Regarding Kanu, he has interests in different business portfolios and owns the Hardley Apartments; an upscale hotel in Lagos. He also has a modelling agency as well as football school in Canada which provides profess professional advanced football coaching for both boys and girls from ages six up to 17
Several others from the ‘Class of 1996’ have also taken the plunge into business and they include Celestine Babayaro; Taribo West; Uche Okechukwu; Teslim Fatusi; Mobi Oparaku amongst others.
The likes of Gariba Lawal, Ikpeba, Emmanuel Babayaro, Tijani Babangida and Joseph Dosu are actively involved with football though in management capacities.
Ikpeba is a member of Delta State Football Association, doubling as a member of the Technical Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation as well as a part time TV pundit.
Along with Ikpeba on the NFF Technical Committee is Lawal, who featured for the Super Eagles in four consecutive AFCON between 2000 and 2006 amassing over 50 caps.
Apart from having his pie in the hospitality business, midfield powerhouse Austin ‘Jay-Jay’ Okocha, is Chairman of Delta State Football Federation, replacing Pinnick Amaju, now NFF president.
Equally staying on the management side of football is Babangida, until last year chairman of Taraba FC, and was also personal assistant to Oliseh, during the latter’s tempestuous reign as Super Eagles coach.
First choice goalkeeper in Atlanta, Dosu is lucky to be alive. He graduated to the Super Eagles after the Olympic Games but the euphoria was short-lived after he was involved in a near-fatal auto crash in December 1997 which almost left him paralyzed. Though still moving around with aid of crutches, Dosu is a study in perseverance and he is still actively involved with football. He is chairman of one of Westerloo Soccer Academy in Lagos and a FIFA-licensed agent.
Substitute goalkeeper, Emmanuel Babayaro, elder brother of former Chelsea and Newcastle defender, Celestine, after trying out his hands in show business and movie production, was appointed last year as the general manager of Kaduna United, a club in the second tier Nigeria league on a contract running till 2018.
Nigeria squad at Atlanta 1996
Name Date of Birth Position
1. Emmanuel BABAYARO 26/12/1976 GK
2. Celestine BABAYARO 29/08/1978 DF
3. Taribo WEST 26/03/1974 DF
4. Nwankwo KANU 01/08/1976 FW
5. Uche OKECHUKWU 27/09/1967 DF
6. Emmanuel AMUNIKE 25/12/1970 MF
7. Tijani BABANGIDA 25/09/1973 FW
8. Wilson ORUMA 30/12/1976 MF
9. Teslim FATUSI 17/09/1977 FW
10. Jay Jay OKOCHA 14/08/1973 MF
11. Victor IKPEBA 12/06/1973 FW
12. AbiodUn OBAFEMI 25/12/1973 MF
13. Garba LAWAL 22/05/1974 FW
14. Daniel AMOKACHI 30/12/1972 FW
15. Sunday OLISEH 14/09/1974 DF
16. Kingsley OBIEKWU 12/11/1974 DF
17. Mobi OPARAKU 01/12/1976 DF
18. Joseph DOSU 19/06/1973 GK