God was Nigerian day we beat Brazil at Olympics — Ikpeba



By Peter Akinbo

Victor Ikpeba, a pivotal member of Nigeria’s historic 1996 Olympic gold-winning squad, believes that divine intervention played a role in their unforgettable triumph over Brazil in the semi-finals of the men’s football event.
In an interview with CAFOnline, Ikpeba shared his memories of the Olympics, reflecting on the journey that led to Nigeria’s momentous achievement on the global stage.
The former Eagles forward recalled how the semi-finals against Brazil was when he knew they were going to become champions.
“During our semi-final against Brazil, it may seem like it does not make sense because on paper, we were not the favourites. It was that (Brazil’s) golden generation with the likes of Bebeto, Roberto Carlos and Rivaldo.
“In addition, we had lost against them a few days earlier in a group match. But, God was Nigerian that day (laughs). We trailed 3-1 then equalised 3-3 to win in 4-3 in extra-time. We are qualified for the final stage. And as they say, a final is not played, it is won,” the 50-year-old, who scored against the Brazilians, said.
Ikpeba vividly recalls the overwhelming support and celebration that swept across Nigeria following the victory against the Brazilians.
“During the tournament we had news from the country. After our victory against Brazil, Nigeria was abuzz. The country did not sleep, everyone was outside. Young people, old people, men, women, all religions — everyone was happy.
“It was so beautiful… I cannot forget the support from the continent. We received messages from our brothers from Ghana, Cameroon, Benin, Egypt; all the African people were behind us and also the African diaspora present in the United States, who massively supported us.”
Nigeria went on to beat Argentina 3-2 in the final to claim the Olympic gold, Nigeria’s first and only gold in the football event.
“I was so happy to participate. Pride too when I remember the teams that we beat, Mexico in the quarter-finals, Brazil in the semi-finals, then Argentina in the final.
“We Africans have shown that this is possible. It’s a tournament that I will never be able to forget, I gained confidence and more professionalism. For me, there was a before and after the Olympics.
“The year before our victory at the Olympics, my statistics were not so great. I played 23 matches and scored six goals. When I returned from Atlanta, I played 44 matches and scored 22 goals.”
Looking ahead to the Paris 2024 Olympics, Ikpeba expressed optimism about Africa’s prospects, urging participating nations to believe in their abilities and enjoy the experience.
“The quality is there, and above all, have fun!” he said.