Manama – Almost 20 years after Nigeria’s football team won the gold at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, U.S., some of the players are still popular among stakeholders in Asia.
A correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) who covered the 79th AIPS Congress in Doha and the AIPS-Asia elections in Manama reports that he was accorded recognition more for the team than the events he covered.
The correspondent also reports that where his official identification could not pave the way, the mere mention of prominent Nigeria players did the magic.
Moreover, the negative impact of Nigerians associated with criminal activities is easily overshadowed by a discussion of global football and the recall of the players who have become ambassadors of sorts.
No fewer than 50 journalists from various countries in Asia and an appreciable number of people recalled the names and offered one form of assistance or the other at the mention of Nigeria among the 230 delegations to the congress.
A member of the Main Organising Committee of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Mubarak Al Boainin, recalled that as a young lad, he enjoyed the team presented by Nigeria at the time.
“I still recall the team that defeated Argentina and a goal scored by Emmanuel Amuneke,’’ he said.
It was a 3-2 tally in which Amuneke scored on the dot of 90 minutes to make victory certain. His was via a header.
“Your coach at the time, Clemens Westahorf, built a good team. You did not know who was a striker from a midfielder and even a defender. It was a compact team.
“What about Jay Jay Okocha, Amuneke and Nwankwo Kanu?’’ he asked.
Bakkyt Shukuralieve, a journalist from the Kyrgyz Republic said: “Of all the Nigerian players, Nwankwo Kanu was the most prominent. I love and respect him.
“Nigeria’s team was good. Okocha and Kanu were my best,’’ added Bahrani soccer fan, Ali Yaseen in Manama.
“Please give my regards to Kanu. He is my idol,’’ added Salem Alhabsi of Oman, who works for the Gulf Corporation Council.
From the enquires, it was obvious that most of them liked Kanu, who was also outstanding in his years with Arsenal.
The correspondent wondered whether the names were being recalled because this is an Olympic year or the fact that Brazil, the hosts of the games in Rio de Janeiro had yet to win an Olympic gold in football.
It could also be because Nigeria is among the countries to make it once more to the global show piece, even with one of the members of the glorious squad — Samsom Siasia — as its coach.
Siasia is not new to leading a team to the games as he was at the
head of the team to the 2008 Beijing Games.
The games are due to hold on Aug. 7 to Aug. 21
The 1996 squad comprised of Celestine Babayaro, Taribo West, Kanu, Uche Okechukwu, Amunike, Tijani Babangida, Wilson Oruma, Teslim Fatusi, Jay-Jay Okocha, Ikpeba, Abiodun Obafemi, Garba Lawal, Daniel Amokachie, Sunday Oliseh, Mobi Oparaku and Joseph Dosu. (NAN)