The Panenka looks at the Super Eagle’s golden generation who reigned supreme in the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, USA.
Saturday 3 August 1996: a date that will forever go down as one of the greatest in Nigerian football history. 20 years ago, the original Nigerian ‘Dream Team’ defeated Argentina 3-2 in the final of the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament, becoming the first African country to win gold at the competition.
Jo Bonfrere’s explosive side captured the imagination of supporters with their exciting brand of football which saw them defeat Brazil 4-3 in the dying seconds of the semi-final after trailing 3-2 in the 89th minute.
In the final they twice came from behind and dispatched an Albiceleste side 3-2 who were armed to the teeth with the likes of Ariel Ortega, Claudio Lopez and Hernan Crespo.
This is the squad that brought suspense and entertainment to the 1996 Olympic arena like never before through their exuberance, speed, technicality, endurance and patriotism.
Daniel Amokachi – The striker scored the Super Eagle’s second equalizer in the final against Argentina. He enjoyed his best spells with Club Brugge, Everton and Besiktas but was never a prolific goalscorer. Nicknamed “the bull,” he became the assistant manager to the national team between 2008 and 2014. Currently manages JS Hercules in the Finish second division.
Emmanuel Amuneke – The former winger scored the winner in the final to secure his place in the history books of African football. He also appeared twice for Nigeria at the 1994 World Cup and was voted African Footballer of the year the same year. Signed by Barcelona in 1996 he never lived up to his full potential in a career blighted by injury.
Tijjani Babangida – Another pacey winger, his international exploits were limited due to the fact that he often found himself behind Finidi George in the pecking order but after being given the chance in Atlanta he became an important fixture in the 1996 Olympic team. He spent the majority of his career with Ajax where he earned comparisons to Marc Overmars.
Celestine Babayaro – After making a name for himself with Anderlecht in Belgium the left-back impressed enough to force a move to England with Chelsea where he made over 130 appearances. He also made nearly 50 appearances for Newcastle. He scored in the final at the 1996 Olympics and also holds the impressive record as the youngest player to receive a red card in the UEFA Champions League aged 16-years and 86 days.
Emmanuel Babayaro – The older brother of the aforementioned Celestine. Included in the squad to the 1996 Olympics but the goalkeeper never made an appearance at the games or in any other capacity for his country.
Teslim Fatusi – The forward enjoyed the best moments of his career with the U23s in 1996 where he made three appearances. Fatusi experienced a nomadic career playing in nine countries ranging from Thailand to the United States.
Jay-Jay Okocha- Widely regarded as the best Nigerian player of his generation and one of the greatest African players of all time. Described as being ‘so good that they named him twice’ the skillful playmaker won both the Olympics and African Cup of Nations on the international stage. At club level he represented the likes of PSG, Fenerbahce and Bolton. Also won the Nigerian footballer of the year in seven times between 1995 and 2005.
Victor Ikpeba – The forward also won both the Olympics and African Cup of Nations on the international stage and appeared at two World Cups in 1994 and 1998. After being unearthed at the U-17 World cup by RFC de Liege he secured a move to Monaco under Arsene Wenger where he spent six successful seasons making 169 appearances and scoring 55 goals.
Sunday Oliseh – RFC de Liege also signed the defensive midfielder where he began a career which took him on a journey around Europe, joining the likes of Reggina, Koln, Ajax, Juventus and Borussia Dortmund in the space of a decade. In 2015 he was appointed coach of the national team but resigned after less than eight months in charge.
Joseph Dosu – After keeping goal for Nigeria at the 1996 Olympics he earned a move to Reggina in Italy where he was unable to make an impact. In 1997 however his career came to an abrupt end after surviving a serious car accident in Lagos aged 23.
Nwankwo Kanu – One of the most decorated players to emerge from this group, the tricky forward can boast five domestic titles, a UEFA Champions League, a UEFA Cup, a UEFA Super Cup, an Intercontinental Cup and three domestic cup from time spent with European heavyweights including Ajax, Inter Milan and Arsenal. With Nigeria he scored the winner against Hungary in the 1996 Olympics group stage and represented his county at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. He was also twice voted the African Footballer of the Year.
Taribo West – Best remembered for his various unusual and colorful hairstyles rather than ability, he enjoyed the most fruitful period in his career with Auxurre and Inter Milan. He played every single minute of the 1996 Olympics and also appeared at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. After winning the French title and two domestic cups with Auxurre he moved to Inter Milan where he lifted the UEFA Cup. From there he embarked on a career that took him around the world from Plymouth Argyle to Partisan Belgrade.
Garba Lawal – Regarded as a versatile member of the Nigeria set up he has played in a majority of positions ranging from defense to attacking midfield. He represented Nigeria at two World Cups and also four editions of the African Cup of nations between 2000 and 2006, scoring in all but the first. In 13 years of service to his country he made 53 appearances for Nigeria scoring five goals.
Abiodun Obafemi – The defender was part of the squad for the Atlanta games but never made an appearance. He spent the majority of his career with SSV Reutlingen and Fotuna Dusseldorf in the late 90s.
Kingsley Obiekwu – Another defender who was part of the squad for the 1966 games but never made an appearance. Divided the majority of his domestic career between the Nigerian league and the Middle East.
Uche Okechukwu – The central defender made a name for himself with Brondby in the early 90s winning the league title twice as well as the club’s player of the year award. This earned him a move to Turkey with Fenerbahce where he stayed for nearly a decade making 191 appearances and winning two league titles. With the Super Eagles he won the 1994 African Cup of Nations as well as a 1996 Olympic gold.
Mobi Oparaku – Along with Taribo West, the defender played in each on the gold medal winning team’s campaign. Despite also representing his country at the victorious U-17 World Championship, 1994 African Cup of Nations and the 1998 World Cup, his career never really took off.
Wilson Oruma – The forward was the top scorer at the U-17 World Championships with six goals for the victorious Nigeria team but only managed to make 19 appearances for the Super Eagle’s first team. He spent his domestic career in France where he enjoyed successful spells with Guingamp and Sochaux where he won the Coupe de France and also Lens where he won the league title.