Nigeria will be in Group B with Colombia, Japan and Sweden at the men’s football event of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The West African giants, the first African country to win Olympic football gold, have had big hits and big misses at the event since their first participation 48 years ago.
Completesportsnigeria.com’s JAMES AGBEREBI goes down memory lane to highlight how Nigeria men’s football teams have fared in the group stages of the Olympic Games…
MEXICO CITY 1968 (CRASHED OUT IN GROUP STAGE)
Nigeria’s first ever appearance in the football event of the Olympic Games was at Mexico City 1968.
Drawn in Group B with Japan, Spain and Brazil, the Nigerian team crashed out at the first hurdle.
Their first ever game at the Olympics was against Japan which they lost 3-1. In the next game against Spain, they were thrashed 3-0.
Surprisingly, in their last group game, Nigeria held Brazil to a 3-3 draw. A brace from Kenneth Olayombo and a goal from Peter Aneke had given Nigeria a 3-0 lead in the first half before Brazil rallied back to score three goals in the second half.
MOSCOW 1980 (CRASHED OUT IN GROUP STAGE)
After missing Munich 1972 and Montreal 1976, the Nigerian football team made a return to the Olympics, this time at Moscow 1980.
And just like in 1968, Nigeria crashed out at the group stage after losing two games and drawing one.
In their opening game, they lost 3-1 to Kuwait but held Czechoslovakia to a 1-1 draw in their second group game. But they finally exited the Olympics after losing 1-0 to Colombia.
SEOUL 1988 (CRASHED OUT IN GROUP STAGE)
The 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul could be described as one of Nigeria’s worst ever. Not only did they crash out in the group stage, they lost all three of their group games.
Meeting Brazil in their first game for the second time at the Olympic Games, the Nigerian side were thumped 4-0.
They took on Yugoslavia in their second group game but went down 3-1 and rounded off the group stage with another defeat to Australia, going down 1-0.
ATLANTA 1996 (ADVANCED FROM GROUP STAGE, WON GOLD)
At Atlanta 1996, for the first time, the Nigerian side dubbed the ‘Dream Team’, finally secured their first ever wins in the group stage and also advanced into the quarter-finals of the Olympic Games.
They kicked off their campaign with a 1-0 win against three-times Olympic champions Hungary (1952. 1964, 1968), thanks to Nwankwo Kanu’s strike.
Against Japan, the team qualified into the quarter-finals for the first time after a 2-0 win, before losing 1-0 to Brazil in an inconsequential last group game.
They went on to become the first African team to win an Olympic football tournament gold medal, beating Argentina 3-2 in the final.
SYDNEY 2000 (ADVANCED FROM GROUP STAGE)
Nigeria went to the Sydney Olympic Games four years later as champions but couldn’t defend their title, crashing out in the quarter-finals.
In the group stage, they were drawn alongside hosts Australia, Honduras and Italy. And against Honduras in their first game, Nigeria played out a 3-3 draw and beat Australia 3-2 in the next group game.
They recorded another draw, this time a 1-1 stalemate against Italy which saw both teams progress into the knockout phase, where Nigeria got thrashed 4-1 by Chile.
BEIJING 2008 (ADVANCED FROM GROUP STAGE, WON SILVER)
The last time the Nigerian men’s football team appeared at the Olympic Games was in Beijing 2008. They made it all the way to the final only to fall short to a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentine side, losing 1-0.
And just like in Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000, the team progressed from the group stage after encounters with the Netherlands, USA and Japan.
They held the Netherlands to a 0-0 draw in their first game, before beating both Japan and USA with a 2-1 scoreline respectively to progress.