While Africa is waiting for the continent’s first triumph at the FIFA World Cup ™, one should remember a number of historic successes that have put the continent on the map of the Olympic football tournament.
Nigeria, led by the great Nwankwo canoe that recently won the UEFA Champions League with Ajax, entered Atlanta in 1996 with high hopes and would have been labeled as a tournament horse accordingly.
After all, this generation had been successful at various youth world championships, especially second at the 1989 youth world championship – the talent was clearly recognizable.
Kanu set a good example and scored the only goal in the Super Eagles 1-0 win over Hungary in Group D. Nigeria met a Japanese team 1-0 at a climax from breathtaking Brazil and scored two late goals – the crowned by the bad guys, skillful Jay-Jay Okocha.
A fresh-faced Ronaldo led Brazil to a 1-0 win over Nigeria in the group’s last game, but Jo Bonfrere’s Super Eagles sealed the first knockout round qualification thanks to the goal difference.
In the quarterfinals against Mexico, Okocha and Celestine Babayaro were the heroes in a match in which both teams were reduced to ten men. Only six days after Nigeria faced Brazil in the group stage, Bebeto and Co stood in the way of the final.
Ronaldo had four goals in four games and Nigeria went down 3-1 at halftime. Victor Ikpeba gave Nigeria a lifeline in the 78th minute before Canoe took over. The striker equalized in the 90th minute before scoring the golden goal for the Super Eagles four minutes after extra time for a 4-3 win.
Maybe it was fate. Another South American giant challenged Nigeria in the final, but even Argentina’s 2-1 lead thanks to Hernan Crespo’s free-kick was not enough. Daniel Amokachi’s beautiful finish in the 74th minute was followed by Emmanuel Amunikes (pictured above) left-foot volley in the last minute, which broke through Argentina’s offside trap and proved to be the goal that made history. His teammate Sunday Oliseh summed up the emotions so eloquently.
“I guarantee that as I speak to you, everyone is celebrating in Africa. There will be no sleep tonight. Everyone will be happy. This applies to all African countries.”
Inspired Cameroon makes Africa more proud
In Sydney 2000, Nigeria was repeated as the title winner, but Cameroon wanted to write its own story. Trainer Jean-Paul Akono perfectly combined youth and experience. This was when Samuel Eto’o introduced himself to the world.
As in Nigeria in 1996, the Indomitable Lions group stage was more than just sailing. They started with a rocky 3-2 win over Kuwait, followed by a draw against the Czech Republic and the United States.
The parallels to the 1996 Nigerian run continued. Akono’s charges got past Brazil in the round of 16 thanks to a golden goal. this time Modeste M’bami was the hero. In the semi-final against Chile Patrick Mboma (84 ‘) and Lauren Etame Mayer (89’) sent Cameroon to the final.
Cameroon legend Samuel Eto'o recently announced his retirement after a supreme 22-year career.— Olympic Channel (@olympicchannel) September 7, 2019
Relive the moment when he scored in the Olympic final at Sydney 2000: https://t.co/DqzEZiVWbF@FCBarcelona @FIFAcom @FecafootOfficie @FIFAWorldCup pic.twitter.com/cjkdGuoDnC
In front of a whopping 104,098 fans at Stadium Australia in Sydney, Spain, and Cameroon, the audience was spoiled with an instant classic. Despite the 0-2 break, the lions proved invincible. Ivan Amaya’s own goal offered a way back and it was Eto’o who equalized. Even when Spain had two players off the pitch in the second half, the game had to be decided on penalties. Cameroon was flawless and Amaya hit the post to be on the podium for Africa twice in a row at the men’s Olympic football tournament.
Do you know?
No African nation has won the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament since Nigeria in 1996 and Cameroon in 2000. Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt and South Africa will represent the continent at Tokyo 2020. Will one of those nations be able to add a gold to the continent’s name?