Olympics football: ‘I would have loved to be a part of’ Nigeria – Ajax legend Finidi George on missing Atlanta 96

Written By Shina Oludare
Nigeria at Atlanta 96
Getty Images

Finidi George says he would have loved to be a part of the Nigerian football team at the 1996 Olympics staged in the United States of America.

Heading into the games as underdogs, Jo Bonfrere’s team beat favourites Brazil and Argentina to win the men’s football gold medal.

Although the tournament is primarily a competition for Under-23 players, the Champions League winner who was 25 years at that time would have been eligible to participate.

Countries are allowed to pick three footballers over the age of 23, allowing them to select some of their biggest stars to partake in the games.

For the Africans, Uche Okechukwu and Emmanuel Amuneke were coach Bonfrere’s choices. In a chat with Goal, the former Ajax star discloses how he felt missing out on a chance to make history.

“It was unfortunate that I was not part of the overaged players taken to the tournament,” George told Goal.

“I would have loved to be a part of that team, but it was impossible for me to force myself in. The coaches picked the players they felt were going to help the team and I was disappointed not making the cut.

“Nonetheless, we were all happy for the victory, but I would have loved to be a part [of the team].”

Nigeria, captained by John Obi Mikel won Bronze at the 2016 Rio Games. Sadly, the West Africans will not be participating in Tokyo 2020 after failing to qualify.

The African football great suggests why that happened and what the country has missed by not qualifying.
 
“Truth be told, Nigeria must always be represented in any football tournament. Missing out on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics means we did not do our homework well,” he continued.

“Qualifying for this competition would have helped our young players to compete at the highest level, and who knows if players from the games would come through to feature at the World Cup.

“This is not good for us and I hope we learn from this and make sure that this doesn’t reoccur in future.”

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