Olympics '96: Taribo West Remembers...

How Nigeria's Dream Team Won Olympics '96 Football Gold

It's no longer news that Nigeria's Dream Team won the Olympics '96 Football Gold. Taribo West, the former Auxerre, AC Milan and Inter Milan defender, says the 3-2 victory over Argentina in the final is still fresh in his memory.

" The 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, is among the most wonderful stages in my professional career," West reminisces to BBC Sport. "We had a team that might match any on the planet."

Nigeria's results at the 1996 Olympics:

Group D: 1-0 Hungary; 2-0 Japan; 0-1 Brazil.

Quarter-final: 2-0 Mexico.

Semi-final: 4-3 Brazil (aet).

Final: 3-2 Argentina.

West states that the preparation for the Games, under the supervision of Dutch coach Jo Bonfrere, was perfect regardless of being beaten by Togo, in Lagos, in their last pre-Olympic friendly prior to taking a trip to the USA.

" Before the Olympics, we were well prepared in the USA. We were not sidetracked by the normal things we experience back home in Nigeria, where friends and family could come and visit us in camp," he keeps in mind.

" We remained in a really remote location and we were really focused on the job at hand. Jo Bonfrere's preparation of the team was exceptional."

After their opening 1-0 win over Hungary and a subsequent 2-0 success over Japan, the West Africans lost 1-0 to Brazil in their last Group D match in Orlando, Florida.

With a 2-0 win over Mexico in the quarter-finals, the "Dream Team", as the Nigerians were nicknamed back home, drew the Brazilians once again, in what was a superbly impressive semi-final.

The 31 July encounter is one that West, renowned for his dreadlocks and robust protecting, will always remember.

After going 3-1 down in the first half, with Brazil's Flavio Conceicao scoring in the game's first minute, the Nigerians appeared to be in a very tight corner!

" We understood quite well that in the first half, we played extremely poorly," West confessed.

" But the secret to our comeback in the 2nd half was our remarkable determination.

" The voice of the leaders echoed loud and clear in the dressing room. We actually won that match in the dressing room.

" Fortunately, we had Daniel Amokachi, Sunday Oliseh and Uche Okechukwu. It was a huge benefit to us.".

Victor Ikpeba, the AS Monaco striker who was voted as Africa's leading player a year later, lowered the tally in the 78th minute.

When Jay-Jay Okocha blew the chance to draw level, fluffing a penalty kick with minutes left on the clock, the match appeared well and really over for Nigeria.

That negative mind-set, nevertheless, was not for Nwankwo Kanu, the two-time African Footballer-of-the-Year (1996 & 1999).

The former Ajax, Inter Milan and Arsenal striker scored the equaliser in the 90th minute and went on to show incredible presence, dexterity and skill to score the winner 4 minutes into extra-time, sending the Eagles' bench into delirium.

After such a remarkable success against a team comprising Bebeto, Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo, which had actually won the World Cup just 2 years previously, West states the Nigerians were convinced they had an ordained date with destiny in the last game against Argentina at the Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia.

" There was something in our spirit that made us understand that we were going to win, although we didn't understand how," West remembers.

" Yes, Argentina got the first goal, but we were not perturbed. Amunike had the honour of eventually giving us the winning goal.

When [Italian referee Pierluigi] Collina blew that whistle, I simply collapsed on the field and knew that my dream had actually come to pass."

On 3 August 1996, Nigeria made history as the very first African country to end up being Olympic football champs at the Atlanta Games.

"My [gold] medal in is the bank overseas. It is something to show to my children."