Host City: Atlanta, United States
Venue(s): Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida; Legion Field, Birmingham, Alabama; Orange Bowl, Miami, Florida; Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, Washington, District of Columbia; Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia
Date Started: July 20, 1996
Date Finished: August 3, 1996
Format: Round-robin pools advance teams to single-elimination tournament of eight teams.
Rules for eligibility were relaxed, as each team was now allowed to add three players older than 23 to their team. These players were not allowed to compete in the qualification matches, only in the final tournament. The pre-tournament favourites were Brazil, coached by national team manager Mario Zagallo. With star players like Ronaldo and Bebeto in attendance, the South Americans suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Japan in their first match, but the team recovered to reach the semi-finals. There, they met Nigeria, which had already lost to Brazil in the group stage. The Africans had a team composed of star players from several European leagues, and five had competed in the 1994 World Cup. But the "Super Eagles" trailed 3-1 at the interval.
Following an Ikpeba goal, a late shot by Nwankwo Kanu forced the match into overtime. For the first time the, "golden goal" rule was in force, meaning the first team to score in extra time would win the match. Kanu secured his role as man of the match by scoring just minutes into extra time. Nigeria encountered a second South American opponent in the final, Argentina. The match was somewhat overshadowed by blunders from the referee and his linesman. Argentina pulled ahead 2-1 from a rather undeserved spot kick, and the match decider two minutes before the final whistle was scored with three Nigerians in offside position. But this did not matter to the Nigerians, who celebrated Africa's first Olympic gold medal in football.
In the years since the Atlanta Olympics many questions have been asked about the true ages of certain members of the Nigerian squad. Allegations that as many as half the team were overage, some by as many as ten years, have been made but none has been proved beyond doubt to be true.