Page 16 NIGERIA entered the qualification series for the Tokyo '64 Olympics in Japan but got knocked out by Morocco. The Green Eagles started brightly with a 3-0 win at home but lost the return fixture 4-1 to the Atlas Lions who went ahead to represent Africa at the games. In Japan, the North Africans lost their two games 6-0 to eventual gold medal winners Hungary and 3-1 to Yugoslavia NIGERIA finally debuted at the football event of the Olympics after nicking one of the slots reserved for Africa with fellow West Africans Ghana and Guinea also going to the party. At the competition proper, the Green Eagles opened their account with a 3-1 loss to Japan, Sam Okoye's 33rd minute equalizer briefly given the Nigerians hope of a fightback but Kunishige Kumamoto's late brace in the 72nd and 89th minutes completed his hattrick and a comprehensive win for the Asians. Another 3-0 loss to Spain, Antonio Grande's second half brace adding to Fernando Ortuno's opener, effectively knocked Nigeria out of the competition but they still had Brazil to play and the Eagles exited Mexico in style. Nigeria reserved her best performance for last with a thrilling 3-3 draw after racing to a three-nil first half lead through Kenneth Olayombo's brace and another by Peter Aneke. The South Americans clawed back to pull level, helped largely by Segun Olumodeji's own goal either side of Fernando Fereti and Tiao's goals. Beaten but not bowed, Nigeria took more positives than negatives away from their debut performance. NIGERIA missed out on the trip to Germany with Morocco, Ghana and Sudan claiming the three tickets. Of the lot, only Morocco advanced beyond the first round before crashing to three straight defeats in the second round. THE Green Eagles qualified for the football event of the 1976 Olympics in Canada but led fellow qualifiers Ghana and Zambia in a withdrawal from the games for political reasons, citing New Zealand's tour of Apartheid South Africa. Thus was lost what could have probably being Nigeria's first real attempt at winning an Olympic medal. THE Green Eagles, fresh from winning a first AFCON title on home soil, travelled to the former USSR with high hopes of bringing back a football medal to reflect their new status as African champions but their results in three games were underwhelming. A 3-1 loss to Kuwait (Mahboub Mubarak's own goal was Nigeria's only strike) was followed by a 1-1 draw with Czechoslovakia with Henry Nwosu drawing the Eagles level after trailing for most of the game before they finally crashed 1-0 to Colombia. Again, Nigeria went back home with a solitary point and still in search of a first win at the games. NIGERIA was not represented at the football event of the Olympics. The African contingent was remarkable because, for the first time, all three won at least one match before exiting the competition. Cameroun and Morocco both placed third in their groups while Egypt qualified for the next round behind its group leaders Italy. The Pharaohs bowed out 2-0 to France in the quarter-finals. THE GREEN Eagles were back in the medals-hunt at South Korea after missing the party in the USA four years before but it was fellow African qualifiers Zambia which grabbed all the headlines with a comprehensive 4-0 win over almighty Italy which had won the FIFA World Cup six years before. Special Olympics Nigeria lost her opening game 4-0 to Brazil, followed by another 3-1 loss to Yugoslavia (the late Rashidi Yekini got Nigeria's consolation goal) before bowing out with another 1-0 setback to Australia. Despite high hopes, Nigeria returned from Seoul without a point, for the first time since 1968. AGAIN Nigeria was missing as a change in the Olympic rules saw participation in the football event restricted to players under the age of 23 for the first time. Ghana, Egypt and Morocco flew Africa's flag but it was the Ghanaians who went all the way to the semi-finals, equaling Egypt's record set at the 1964 event in Tokyo. However, while the Egyptians lost their third-place classification match 3-1 to East Germany, the Ghanaians went one better and defeated Australia 1-0 to claim bronze, Africa's first medal in the event. AFRICA'S finest hour finally arrived in the United States of America when the Nigerian lads mounted the rostrum at the Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia on August 3, 1996 to collect the continent's first ever gold medal in the football event in the 100 years history of the Olympics. The U-23 team, now christened 'Dream Team' by the local media, kicked off their campaign with a not-too impressive 1-0 win over Hungary before beating Japan 2-0. A 1- 0 loss to Brazil ensured the Nigerians finished second to set up a quarter-final date with Mexico which they won 2-0. The semi-final was a rematch with Brazil but, this time, the Dream Team won a dramatic Special From Mexico '68 – London 2012: Nigeria's score card at the Olympics TOKYO 1964 MEXICO 1968 MUNICH 1972 MONTREAL 1976 Beijing 2008: The Silver-winning squad pose with Argentina legend Diego Maradona. IGERIA became the fifth African country – after Egypt, NTunisia, Morocco and Ghana - to qualify for the football event of the Olympics when they attended the Mexico 1968 edition. Between then and now, Nigeria has become the most successful team at the Olympics with one gold and one silver and are set to further extend the record with another appearance at the Rio Olympics in Brazil. KAYODE OGUNDARE traces the participation of Nigeria at the football event of the Olympics from 1968 – when the country debuted – to the last edition held in London. MOSCOW 1980 LOS ANGELES 1984 SEOUL 1988 BARCELONA 1992 ATLANTA 1996 tie 4-3 with two late goals from Kanu Nwankwo. In the final match, they defeated Argentina 3-2 to win Africa's first Olympic football gold medal. SYDNEY 2000 AGAINST the grain of expectations, Nigeria failed to defend the gold medal it won four years earlier but Cameroun kept the continent's flag flying by beating Spain in a penalty shoot-out to keep the title in Africa for another four years. The U-23 began the competition with a 3- 3 draw against Honduras, requiring an added-time goal from Yakubu Aiyegbeni to draw level after going behind. Bright Igbinadolor and Victor Agali were the other scorers on the day. Next up were the Australians who fell 3-2 before being forced to a 1-1 draw by Italy to book a quarter-final date with Chile. The Chileans, inspired by the legendary Ivan Zamorano, raced into a four-nil lead and Victor Agali's solitary goal 14minutes from time was scant consolation. ATHENS 2004 NIGERIA was once again missing from the foo tball event after failing to beat Tunisia in the final qualifying round. Without Nigeria and Cameroun, winners of the previous two editions, Africa was represented by Ghana, Mali, Tunisia and Morocco. Of the lot, only Mali advanced from the group stages but they were eliminated in the quarter-finals after losing 1-0 to Italy to end Africa's hope of a third straight winners' medal. BEIJING 2008 AFTER the disappointment of 2004, Nigeria's U-23 qualified ahead of time for Beijing with respected coach Samson Siasia in charge after taking the U-20 side to the finals of the FIFA World Youth Championships three years earlier. They started with a 0-0 draw with the Netherlands, defeated Japan and USA with identical 2-1 wins and beat fellow Africans Cote d'Ivoire 2-0 in the quarters. The Nigerian lads tore Belgium to shreds for a 4- 1 victory to reach the final and set up a rematch of the 1996 final against Argentina. However, unlike it happened 12 years earlier, it was the Argentines who ran away with a slim 1-0 win to leave Nigeria with a consolatory silver medal. Seoul 1988: Rashidi Yekini scored Nigeria’s only goal at the Olympics in South Korea.