Argentina have score to settle with Nigeria in 1996 rematchAugust 22nd, 2008 - 7:00 pm ICT by IANS
Beijing, Aug 22 (DPA) In 1996 in Atlanta, Argentina were the overwhelming favourites to beat Nigeria in the final of the Olympic football tournament. Even though the African side had managed to knock out Brazil in the semi-finals, Argentina had looked particularly strong in the quarter-final, knocking out defending champions Spain 4-0, and the semi-final, beating Portugal 2-0.
In the final, everything looked as if it was going according to plan for Argentina, as Claudio Lopez gave them the lead just three minutes into the game. Even after Celestine Babayaro equalised midway through the first half, Argentina were not too fazed.
Hernan Crespo restored their lead early in the second half, but Daniel Amokachi again equalised and just when it seemed that the game was going into extra time, Emmanuel Amunike scored the winner for Nigeria in the last minute of the game.
Now Winger Osaze Odemwingie, who has proved one of the stars in the Nigerian side in Beijing, believes that his side can repeat the 1996 triumph.
“Our first goal was to get a medal. We know that we have achieved that. Now everything is possible.”
As one of the over-aged players in the Nigerian side, who qualified for the final by beating Belgium 4-1 in the semis, Odemwingie has represented his country’s senior side at the African Cup of Nations.
The 27-year-old, who was born in Tashkent in Uzbekistan to a Nigerian father and a Russian mother, said he was enjoying the experience of playing at the Olympics.
“Playing here is a great thing. I didn’t play for the Nigerian youth sides, so I’m now experiencing all of that for the first time.
“It’s really impressive to stay in the village. It’s nice to see how beautiful the different athletes are, to see people of different sizes, colours.
“After these Olympics I’ll take a different look at different sports, other than just football, because I now know more about them,” he said.
Odemwingie, who spent several seasons with Lille in the French first division and has now joined Lokomotiv Moscow, said that he enjoyed spending time with the Russian basketball side.
“I also saw other athletes like Rafael Nadal. Some of our players also had their picture taken with Juan Riquelme, whom they like a lot.”
In Saturday’s final in the Bird’s Nest, the Nigerian players will face Juan Riquelme and Co. in the final, once again going in as underdogs.
That is something that Nigerian coach Samson Siasia regards as positive. “It’s good to be going in as underdogs, of course! If you look at the polls, like 90 per cent think Argentina will win. That couldn’t be better for us.
“The pressure will all be on them. We have good players and Argentina have good players. The difference is, all the pressure will be on them.”
For Riquelme, trouncing Brazil 3-0 in the semi-finals, means very little unless they follow up. “It’s very important to reach a final, but we have to win it. Beating Brazil was very special, for many reasons, but nobody is going to remember that if we lose the final.
“The thing with Brazil was beautiful, but it’s gone. It will be worth nothing if we do not beat Nigeria and get the gold medal.”
The veteran midfielder also admitted this was probably his last opportunity to win gold.
“I want to win to give some joy to the country, and also because this is my last chance. I wanted to be here, I had never been at the Olympic Games and I do not think I can come back,” Riquelme said.