Dutch coach, Johannes Bonfrere has labelled Nigeria U-23 Dream Team 1 shock victory in the men’s football event of the1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta Georgia as his greatest achievement in his football career, but regrets that 24 years after, he has not been given the medal, Completesports.com reports.
24 years ago, precisely on August 3, 1996, Emmanuel Amuneke flicked home a 90th minute winner off a free kick after both Celestine Babayaro (28th) and Daniel Amokach (74th) had canceled out Argentina’s goals by Claudio Lopez (3rd min) and Hernan Crespo (50th pen.), and the West African nation became the first African team to win gold medal in the Olympics football event.
And the man who guided the winning Dream Team 1 side, Bonfrere, looks back with pride about how it all happened.
“Yeah, that was my biggest achievement in my career,” Bonfrere responded from his Netherlands home when Complete Sports called him up.
“We played as a team, on and off the pitch. And that’s the strong point of a good team like Nigeria, a great nation with good players.
Bonfrere continued: “Nigeria is blessed with fantastic talents, players with strong mentality and always ready to work for success.”
“With the quality players that Nigeria has, every coach would want to work here and make success.
“Yeah, I still remember the moment in Atlanta, it is still fresh in my head, not minding it’s already 24 years gone.
“We put Africa on the strong football point in the World, beat two World strongest football powers, Brazil and Argentina.
“In the semifinal against Brazil, we went down 1-0 in the first half from Brazil free kick. But in the second half, the will to win was high among my players. Our mentality was high and the goals started coming.
“In the final, by my understanding, Argentina was not as strong as Brazil. They were more physical and aggressive unlike a technical Brazil.
“It was great for us to win the gold and Nigeria became Champions of the World in the Olympics football.”
Bonfrere remembers the heroic welcome his wife and daughter gave him on return to the the Netherlands after the monumental success at the Atlanta Olympic Games.
“Sure, my family were following the games, our progress at the Olympic Games. They were happy and were at the airport in Amsterdam waiting for me.
“They were at the airport with a car. After the immigration protocol, I was running at the airport before my wife and daughter saw me and we drove off”.
Despite the fond memories of the Atlanta Olympic Games, Bonfrere appears clearly a sad man.
And he’s in no mood to hide his feeling of disappointment and frustration.
“Unfortunately, I’ve not received my (gold) medal till date,” he said as his voice went shrink.
“It’s 24 years and I don’t have my medal or anything to show for our effort, our victory and it’s a shame.
“Even Patrick Paschal has also not received. Also, the land promised us by Lagos State Government at Lekki has not been given to me till now, as well as Paschal too.
“I’ve written severally to successive Lagos State Governments for them to allocate my own land, nothing has come out of it.
“Others have gotten theirs but I haven’t. It’s a big shame, I hope they give me mine”.
The Dutch tactician recalls how he almost won the Nations Cup with the Super Eagles in 2000. Bonfrere says he would have been a proud AFCON gold medalist if not for the disallowed (penalty) goal by the referee.
“After the Olympic Games in 1996, I returned home to Amsterdam, Netherlands.
“In 1998 or so, the Nigeria (Football) Federation asked me to come. They said the AFCON is coming up and that the Super Eagles are in the group with Tunisia and Morocco.
“They were afraid Eagles may not qualify from the group. So, we prepared, beat Tunisia, beat Morocco and finished top in the group.
“In the final with Cameroon, we would have won the gold if not for the ‘stupid goal’ the referee said was not a goal but the linesman said it was a goal.”
By Sab Osuji
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