The Olympic gold medal men’s match is once again set. The two foes are familiar faces on this stage, Argentina and Nigeria. Perhaps it’s Argentina's turn to pull even in today’s rematch in Beijing; because 12 years ago in Athens…Georgia that is…Nigeria won their first and only international trophy in the form of Olympic gold.
I remember sitting high in the stands on that August day in 1996 at a woefully unfit for purpose stadium at the University of Georgia.
The stadium motto, between the hedges, proved to be a sticky point for football. The old American football stadium has a famous row of hedges planted around the field. The problem of course is that an American football field need only be 50 yards wide, while the minimum width for a FIFA approved international match is 70 yards. This meant, to the great consternation of many UGA faithful, that the hedges had to come out. The University showcased their horticultural talents as the hedges themselves were treated with great dignity and replanted after the Olympics left town.
The match itself was electric. 86,117 were in attendance to watch an inspired Super Eagles, led by Jay-Jay Okocha, Uche Okechukwu, and of course, the colorful Taribo West take on an equally talent rich Argentina with players like Crespo, Simeone, Zanetti, Ortega, and Claudio López.
As if this embarrassment of riches on the playing field were not enough, we were also treated to the fine referring of the great Pierluigi Collina.
The match details I’m afraid are a bit hazy after so many years and thousands of matches later, but in spite of going down a goal twice in the match (one of which was a Penalty Kick awarded on an Ortega dive in the box) the final 3-2 result was a spectacular coup for the Super Eagles and they have not been able to repeat it since.
Today’s match features a youthful and hopeful Nigerian side; however, they do not have the long list of A grade players like they did in Georgia so many years ago. In spite of that, they have played fantastic attacking football this tournament and have delivered great goals. They will be looking to earn Nigeria’s second major tournament victory.
Argentina on the other hand are still able to spring forth magical players such as Lionel Messi, Juan Riquelme, and Sergio Aguero and, after sending Brazil to the bronze medal match, will be quite confident in their ability to bring home gold for the Albicelestes.