Thursday, August 21, 2008

Nigeria on Olympic Upset Trail Again vs. Argentinal

My self-imposed summer layoff is over. I guess it’s a cardinal blogging sin not to keep up with a daily, or semi-regular post, but hey, like I’ve said many times, this is my personal space and I’ll keep it as tidy as I care to.

That said, I’m going to spare you any kind of summer recap. Who cares? Not you, that’s for sure.

I’m truly looking forward to Saturday’s gold-medal match between Argentina and Nigeria. I’ve always been fascinated by Nigerian football, going back to the 1994 World Cup when I was a reporter for a Massachusetts newspaper covering the matches. Nigeria trained at a nearby college, and they were gracious, courteous and available to fans and media alike.

That 1994 team was remarkable. It was the country’s first time in the finals, but it was there fresh off winning the African Cup of Nations and had a great cast of characters: Emmanuel Anuneke, Finidi George, Peter Rufai in goal, Victor Ikpeba, Oliseh, Okafor, Rashidi Yekini, Daniel Amokachi, Uche Okechukwu. These were fresh faces, very stylish players who weren’t just content to be in the finals.

They were paired with Argentina, Greece and Bulgaria in the group based at Foxboro. Argentina featured Maradona’s final national team appearance (I saw him score his final goal—against Greece—before he was suspended). Nigeria won the group, (it did lose to Argentina, 2-1) and nearly ousted eventual finalists Italy in the second round. It was a bummer to see them go out. Their “training camp” was festive and their training sessions attracted some good crowds, probably most out of curiosity.

Any way, back to the Olympic final, this Nigerian team reminds me of the ’94 squad: talented, young and confident. Argentina blew out Brazil 3-0 in the semifinals and is a big favorite behind Messi, Riquelme and co. But there’s something to be said for Nigeria, which thrashed upstart Belguim (hello, Italy), 4-1, in the other semifinal. I’m going to call the upset. Call B.S. if you want, but I see it. And how’s this for the ultimate irony: Emmanuel Epko, a midfielder for the Columbus Crew in MLS gets the winner, 1-0.

No comments: