Dream Team Ends Nigeria’s Medal Drought, Wins Bronze, Brazil Wins Gold

  • Lightning strikes ‘triple-triple’ for Bolt

Duro Ikhazuagbe in Rio and Demola Ojo with Agency Report

Nigeria on Saturday won her first medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games as the country’s men’s football team won bronze after defeating Honduras in Belo Horizonte.

Mikel Obi combined brilliantly with Ezekiel Imoh to set up Sadiq Umar for Nigeria’s first goal in the 34th minute. Aminu Umar increased Nigeria’s lead four minutes into the second half after latching on the ball as Honduras goalkeeper, Luis Lopez struggled to stop Mikel’s shot.

Samson Siasia’s wards took the game beyond the reach of Honduras with another goal coming off the boots of Sadiq within six minutes. It was another of Mikel’s assist to make it 3-0. The goals were enough to ensure victory, despite a late rally from the Hondurans who scored two late goals but could not overhaul their more illustrious opponents.

Speaking after the game, Siasia said, “I want to say thanks to the players. They did a great job. It is good to take something back home. Winning bronze is not easy. We are happy and we have to celebrate. We have to enjoy this moment.”
Team captain Mikel expressed how proud he was of the team’s achievement and poured encomiums on Siasia for making the bronze medal possible. “We have an amazing coach. He’s always been there for the boys.”

On what the medal means to Team Nigeria’s camp disillusioned by the contingent’s poor run in Brazil, he said, “It is very important, because football in Nigeria is absolutely massive. We had extra-pressure perhaps, but we have done it for us, for our family, for Nigeria.”

Football was one of the sports where Team Nigeria was expected to do well after impressive showings in the past, including the gold medal at the Atlanta ’96 Games, and silver at Beijing 2008.
However, shoddy preparations before the games, characterized by a well-documented lack of support from the country’s sports administrators had put the chances of the team in serious doubt.

The team dubbed Dream Team VI, risked disqualification from the football tournament after they barely made it for their first match at the Olympics against Japan. But despite making it to Brazil from their training base in Atlanta, USA, a few hours before the game, they came out on top in a thrilling contest that ended 5-4.

Their performance earned worldwide attention and commendation especially as the team defeated Sweden 1-0 in their second match to qualify for the latter stages of the competition. But the disputes between players and officials continued with the team threatening at some to boycott their quarter-final match against Denmark over unpaid allowances.

There were reports that team captain Mikel had to bail the team out by helping out with bills before being refunded by the team’s officials. The team however continued to defy the odds by beating Denmark 2-0. Suddenly the dream of winning gold seemed attainable, with Germany the only standing between Nigeria and another Olympic football final.

Celebrated Japanese plastic surgeon, Katsuya Takasu, was so impressed by the team’s exploits that he announced his desire to reward them with $30,000 for a gold medal, $20,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze after hearing about their financial woes.

“I read about the financial problems affecting the team and I felt the need to make a big contribution,” Takasu had said. “I am not doing this for media attention but to motivate a team with an indomitable spirit. I fell in love with the Nigerian team because despite all these problems they are in the quarter-finals of the Olympics.”

Unfortunately, the Nigerian team could not get beyond the Germans as they lost by two goals to nothing. But the never-say-die Nigerian spirit came to the fore as the team shrugged off all its setbacks to dominate their Honduran counterparts and claim bronze.

The victory thus saved the country the ignominy of leaving the Rio Olympics without any medal and ensured that that a repeat of the dismal showing at the London 2012 Olympics, where Nigeria finished without a medal, was averted.

Meanwhile host country Brazil recorded a first by winning the gold medal, overcoming Germany 5-4 on penalties, after playing a 1-1 draw in normal time. The win ensured Brazil – five-time World Cup winners – won the only football title that has eluded the world’s most successful football nation.

Superstar captain, Neymar wrote his name into football folklore by scoring a sensational free-kick to put Brazil ahead in the first half before netting the decisive penalty. Along with his teammates, he has succeeded where some of the biggest names in Brazilian football have failed.

The win went a long way in wiping out the pain of the 7-1 thrashing Germany inflicted on Brazil at the semi-final stage of the 2014 World Cup, also hosted by Brazil. Neymar missed that match due to injury but yesterday was redemption not only for him, but for his country.

Also, Jamaican sprinter, Usain Bolt, won his third gold medal of Rio 2016 – and his ninth overall – as he anchored the Jamaican 4x100m relay team to victory. He had already said he would be “immortal” if he pulled it off, and after his last ever Olympic race he said: “There you go. I am the greatest.”

Bolt, the charismatic Jamaican sprinter never disappointed in an Olympic final. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he won three gold medals (100m, 200m, 4x100m), all in world record time. Then at the 2012 London Games, he became the first athlete to sweep the 100m, 200m and 4x100m at consecutive Olympics. He added three more gold medals to his collection at the 2016 Rio Olympics, his final Games.