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The Amazing Story of the Nigeria Olympic Dream Team
The Dream team one was coached by Dutchman Johannes Bonfrere and started their path to the final with a 1-0 victory over Hungary and a 2-0 win over Japan before completing the first round with a 1-0 loss to the enterprising Brazilians. The Africans then shut down Mexico, led by eccentric goalkeeper Jorge Campos, 2-0, in the quarter-finals to set up a pair of amazing matches.
Losing in the semi-finals to a formidable Brazilian side that boasted of Bebeto, Ronaldo and Rivaldo, 3-1, Nigeria finally woke up in the 78th minute as Victor Ikpeba scored from 20 meters out. As time was running out, inspirational Captain Nwankwo Kanu took center stage, scoring in a scramble in front of the goal in the final minute to equalize. With extra-time barely three minutes out, Kanu fired home the game-winner from 16 meters to complete one of the greatest comebacks in international football history in what many observers felt was the greatest Olympic football match ever played.
The Dream Team later went ahead to stage another miraculous comeback against Argentina in the gold-medal match in front of 86,117 spectators in the Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia. At the end of 90 minutes of exciting football, Nigeria triumphed over Argentina.
The Argentinians held a 2-1 advantage on goals by Claudio Lopez who scored via a well taken header in the third minutes and Hernan Crespo in the 50th minute of play via a penalty kick. The resilient Dream team one came back strongly in the game and equalized in the 74th minute of play when striker Daniel Amokachi scrambled in the decisive goal. With a minute remaining, super substitute Emmanuel Amuneke scored the winning goal to give Nigeria a famous 3-2 victory.
It was a momentous day in the history of Nigeria football, as the international football community celebrated a rare feat by an African side.
Dream Team Two
With the achievement of the Dream Team I in Atlanta 1996, the pressure was on the Dream team two to perform up to expectation at the Olympic Games held in 2000 at the beautiful city of Sydney in Australia.
The team was not lacking in quality players, as they had in their fold: Victor Agali, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Garba Lawal and Celestine Babayaro, but unfortunately, they were knocked out in the quarterfinals. In their first match, the Dream team two drew 3-3 with Honduras, before defeating Australia 3-2 in their second match. They drew 1-1 with Italy, to set up a fascinating quarter-final clash with Chile. It was an encounter that exposed the inadequacy of the Dream team two, as they were humiliated 4-1 by an inspired Chilean side.
Nigeria Dream Team Three-Dreams Never Last For Ever
The dream died in 2004, when the Nigerian Olympic football team then known as: The Dream team three, could not scale through the African qualifiers. Tunisia qualified for Athens 2004 at the expense of Nigeria Dream team three with an embarrassing 2-0 defeat of Nigeria in the last group match at Tunis. The team which also represented the country at the 8th All African Games hosted by Nigeria fought their way into the finals of the football event, only to loss to Cameroon 2-0, at the Ultra modern Abuja National stadium.
Dream Team Four-The Re-Birth of the Nigeria Olympic Team
The dream was re-ignited in 2008, when a bunch of talented footballers that were offspring’s from the U-20 team that picked up the silver medals at the World Youth Championship in Holland in 2005, stormed Beijing, for the Olympic football tournament. Coach Samson Siasia, one of the best youth coaches in Nigeria, led them to the Olympics. Paired alongside heavy weights like the Netherlands, Japan and the United States in group B, the Dream team Four started their Olympic football campaign with a barren 0-0 draw with the Netherlands, before bouncing back to record a morale boosting 2-1 victory over Japan. They confirmed their superiority in the group with another 2-1 win over the United States. Ivory Coast fell on the way side to Coach Samson Siasia tutored side in the quarter-finals, as they suffered a 2-0 defeat.
The Semi-final pairing saw the best outing of the Dream team Four, as they ran riot against a hapless Belgian side that tried desperately to contain the rampaging Nigerians. The encounter ended 4-1 in favor of Nigeria, and the die was once again cast for a tantalizing encounter between Nigeria and arch rival Argentina. It was a repeat of the 2005 U-20 World Cup held in Holland, as the main actors were still very much around on both sides. Revenge was what the Nigerians were singing, and they had diminutive Lionel Messi to contend with in their quest to winning the Olympic Football Gold for the second time since 1996. It was a close encounter which was decided by a lone goal scored in the 58th minutes of play by Angel Di Maria of Argentina. The Dream team Four once again had to play second fiddle to an experienced Argentine side, as they lost the epic encounter 1-0.
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