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banner Tuesday, 15 February, 2000, 15:33 GMT
Nigerian coach sets sights on Sydney

Nigeria won Olympic gold in Atlanta four years ago


By Eniwoke Ibagere in Lagos

Nigeria coach Jo Bonfere insists he has put behind him his side's African Nations Cup final defeat by Cameroon and is looking forward to the challenge of taking his team to the Olympics.

And Bonfrere was given the backing of the country's President, Olusegun Obasanjo, who praised the team for their efforts in the competition.

Cameroon defeated Nigeria on 4-3 penalties, after a 2-2 draw at the end of extra time, to win the trophy for a third time.


Bonfrere is determined to defend Nigeria's Olympic crown
"New days and new challenges ahead, now my headache is qualifying the under-23 team for the 2000 Olympics," said Bonfrere.

Bonfrere Led the Nigerians to soccer gold at the 1996 Olympic Games - but parted company with them claiming non-payment of his bonuses and allowances.

He was re-engaged last November in time for the Nations Cup tournament, which Ghana and Nigeria co-hosted.

Now he must turn the side around in time for the Olympic Games, which take place in September in Sydney.

"During the Nations Cup, I was keeping an eye on the Olympic squad at their training camp. Now I have more time for them," added Bonfrere.

Presidential backing

Bonfrere and his team were given official support in Nigeria, after President Obasanjo praised their efforts in reaching the Nations Cup final and not losing a single match in open play.

"Whatever position they put us, we have accepted it with equanimity and magnanimity," he told the team at a presidential luncheon in the capital Abuja.

"No matter the verdict of the individual, what matters is the verdict of God. The verdict of God on Sunday is that Nigeria did well," he said.

President Obasanjo collected the Fifa Fair Play Award on behalf of the Super Eagles.

"As far as I am concerned... the team has done Nigeria proud," he said.

"In spite of all the odds, in spite of things that could ignite you, you were calm, disciplined, smiling and striving. You showed that in character you are people to be proud of. Nigerians everywhere are proud of you.

"There is nobody who watched that match who could say Nigeria is irrelevant in football."

Second spot

The Nigerians, who play Uganda this weekend in Kampala in an Olympic qualifying match, have three points and are second in their group behind Zimbabwe with six points. Angola is the fourth team in the group.

Fourteen foreign-based players, including Julius Aghahowa, Furo Iyenemi and Gbenga Okunowo who played in the Nations Cup, are in Nigeria's present Olympic squad.

Bonfrere said he was also looking forward to the qualifying matches for the 2002 World Cup tournament, which will be co-hosted by Japan and South Korea.

"Building a stronger and better Super Eagles and getting to the 2002 World Cup are my other priorities," he said.

"Enough of reflecting on not winning the Nations Cup and protesting any decision won't change anything."

The Nigerian Football Association (NFA), claiming bad refereeing cost its team the chance of a victory over Cameroon, said it had protested to the Confederation of African Football.

The NFA accused Tunisian referee Mourad Daami of denying the team a penalty for handball early in the game and then failed to award Victor Ikpeba's spot kick during the penalty shoot-out.

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See also:
14 Feb 00 |  Cup News
Nigerian media bitter in defeat
13 Feb 00 |  Cup News
Cameroon are Kings of Africa
14 Feb 00 |  Cup News
Football the winner in Africa
12 Feb 00 |  Cup News
Cameroon: Player penpix
12 Feb 00 |  Cup News
Nigeria: Player penpix
Links to other Cup News stories are at the foot of the page.