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Amokachi: Atlanta ’96 Gold Made Us Forget Nigeria’s Problems

Former Nigeria international Daniel Amokachi has stated that he will forever cherish winning the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games football gold.

The 1996 Nigeria team, nicknamed the Dream Team because of the numerous stars in the squad, became the first African team to win an Olympic football gold after defeating Argentina 3-2 in the final.

And last week Thursday, the current U-23 Eagles were drawn in Group B alongside Japan, Colombia and Sweden at this year's Rio Olympic Games.

In a chat with FIFA.com, Amokachi re- collects the impact winning the gold had in Nigeria 20 years ago.

“Back then Nigeria was on sanction from the United Nations and the football that we played during the Olympics made Nigerians forget about the problems they were going through by focussing on football,” said Amokachi.

“The manner in which we did it made us incredibly happy. Playing the giants of South America, and then coming back from behind against the likes of Brazil in the semi-final and Argentina in the final.

“It was an incredible experience being an Olympian and winning a gold medal. It’s something I'll cherish all my life."

The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations-winning assistant coach attributed the Super Eagles failure to qualify for next year's AFCON to poor mentality of the players.

“The players when they return to play in Africa on international duty forget to switch [mentally]. It’s something that we kind of struggle with – not only as Nigerians, but as Africans," Amokachi added.

"You play in Europe and everything you get is professional from A-Z and then when you come to Africa, the likes of transportation and accommodation can seem a distraction.

“The players forget to switch to being an African when they come back and that always makes them perform less than what they do at club level. I’m sure that has contributed to Nigeria not making it to back-to-back championships."

He went on to describe the Eagles' inability to be in Gabon as a setback for the country's football.

Amokachi said: "Not qualifying for the tournament is not good enough for a country like Nigeria, but that’s football. It makes you sit up and say: ‘We have a lot of work that needs to be done."

Speaking on his appointment as head coach of second division side JS Hercules, Amokachi expressed optimism that despite some of the setbacks, he believes he has what it takes to succeed.

“Freezing was the not the word, that’s an understatement – it was minus 35 degrees [Celsius] when I arrived!" he explained.

“I was leaving a country that was roasting, about 38 degrees when I left Nigeria. The day before I travelled, I checked the weather forecast with my wife and she joked: ‘Do you really want to go?’ [laughs] I said ‘Of course!’. The weather in Finland is an obstacle but with all obstacles when you’re trying to achieve something, you throw them out the window.

“The outdoor pitches are frozen and everything we do at the moment is indoor. You have a number of other teams using those facilities and it’s hard to get a full pitch to yourself, which can make the programme you’re trying to lay down difficult. But I am a Nigerian, an African. I’m used to challenges and I would love to see it through.

"It is my first experience as an African manager coaching in Europe and there are not many Africans who are head coaches in Europe,” said the former Club Brugge, Everton and Besiktas star. “They are giving me a platform as an African to showcase what I can do and if I do well, it's an open door for other African coaches."
 

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