Super Eagles at AFCON – A romance of hits and near misses – Score Nigeria

Super Eagles at AFCON – A romance of hits and near misses – Score Nigeria

IKENWA NNABUOGOR details the journey of the Super Eagles so far at the Africa Cup of Nations…

The Africa Cup of Nations began three years before Independent Nigeria and had in its inaugural attendance four invited countries only.

Sudan hosted this first continental soccer fiesta which had the hosts, apartheid South Africa, Egypt and Ethiopia in attendance.

Egypt beat Sudan 4-0 in final to win the maiden edition with top scorer Mohammed Diab El-Atar, nicknamed El Diba, netting the four goals to emerge top scorer with five goals.

The 1962 edition, hosted in Ethiopia, the third after its birth, witnessed the first time qualification method was used to determine the qualifiers and that announced Nigeria’s first involvement with the AFCON albeit in the qualifiers.

After beating Ghana with 2-2 goal aggregate in drawing of lots, Super Eagles, then known as Red Devils, advanced to the final rounds of the qualifiers, but abandoned the second leg tie at 2-2, with Albert Onyeanwuna netting one of the goals against Tunisia in Tunis, on 65 minutes despite leading 4-3 on goals aggregate and the game was awarded to Tunisia.

Muda Lawal – Top-class talent featured at 5 AFCONS

The Onyeanwuna-led side walked off the pitch protesting Tunisia’s equalizer and CAF handed the ticket to Tunisia instead.

Nigeria would finally make their AFCON debut in 1963, when Ghana hosted by default after Guinea were disqualified for failing to provide neutral officials despite beating Nigeria on a 3-2 goals aggregate.

Asuquo Akpe became the first Nigerian to score in an AFCON game, scoring in the 78th minute in a 6-3 bashing handed by United Arab Republic (Egypt).

Nigeria took a further drubbing in the hands of Sudan who put four unreplied goals past them in the second group game in the six-team tournament to return home without a win.

Nigeria’s resurgence at the continental soccer party began in 1976 after a withdrawal in 1965 and non qualification in the other editions, before berthing in Ethiopia for their second appearance after a 13-year lull.

The Red Devils nickname had been replaced with Green Eagles and late Tihomir Jelisavcic, nicknamed Father Tiko, who had taken over reigns from Brazilian Jorge Penna in 1974, assembled a strong team that first put the country in the AFCON spotlight in their very first appearance.

Father Tiko’s Eagles began the journey to Ethiopia walking over Central African Republic who withdrew in the first round of the qualifiers before booking their flight tickets to the Horn of Africa dispatching Congo Brazzavile 3-1 on goals aggregate.

Baba Otu Mohammed became the country’s first goal scorer in the 1976 AFCON finals when he opened scoring in the 27th minute as his brace ensured a 4-2 win over Zaire (now Congo DR) in their group B’s opening game in Dire Dawa.

Nigeria finished third with three points in the final group league format – the first and only time it was used to determine the winner – after a 1-1 draw against Guinea and 3-2 victory over Egypt as Morocco drew 1-1 with Guinea to emerge champions.

Father Tiko and Green Eagles returned to Ghana two years after for their second consecutive AFCON finals and added their second bronze medal to their honour’s cabinet.

Segun Odegbami added an individual honour to the bargain after jointly emerging top scorer alongside Ghana’s Opoku Afriyie and Uganda’s Philip Omondi with three goals.

Uganda presented the AFCON’s first major upset, surprisingly beating Nigeria 2-1 in semi-final as the Green Eagles had to settle for the third best finish albeit by a default after CAF awarded 2-0 win to Nigeria following Tunisia’s protests by walking off the pitch after Baba Otu Mohammed had equalised in the 42nd minute.

Just four years after Nigeria’s first-ever AFCON participation, Green Eagles became champions of the continent at home in 1980, when they beat Algeria 3-0 before a packed crowd at National Stadium in Lagos.

Odegbami put his country in front after just two minutes and added another in the 42nd minutes, before Muda Lawal put the icing on the cake five minutes after recess to send the crowd into mad jubilation.

The 1980 edition also witnessed for the first time three Eagles’ players would make the CAF Team of the Tournament – captain “Chairman” Christian Chukwu, Segun Odegbami and Muda Lawal.

Odegbami had made the Team of the Tournament earlier in 1978 and became the first Nigerian to be named in the Team of the Tournament for two straight editions.

The glorious 1980 AFCON also crowned Chukwu the Most Valuable Player as he became the first ever Nigerian player to win the individual award.

Odegbami also emerged joint top scorer with three goals for the second time in a row.

Segun Odegbami shone at 1980 and 1978 AFCONs

The 1980 AFCON was also the first time ever a foreign-based player would feature for the Eagles as central defender Godwin Odiye was invited from San Francisco Dons to fortify the defence of the all-conquering Otto Gloria side.

Brazilian coach Otto Gloria, arguably the best Eagles coach returned in Libya two years later to defend his title, but was brutally dispatched back to Lagos by young and determined Zambia side beating them 3-0 in the final group game after starting on a sound note by beating Ethiopia 3-0 in the group’s opening game in Benghazi.

Gloria returned to Brazil and his place taken up by an indigenous coach Adegboyega Onigbinde who assembled a formidable team to restore pride and dignity in Cote D’Ivoire in 1984.

The team also welcomed the late Muda Lawal as a record AFCON participant, playing in his fifth tournament consecutively, beginning from Ethiopia in 1976.

Young defender Stephen Keshi who had emerged from the ashes of retired Chukwu was also playing in his second AFCON after his debut in Libya two years earlier, completed a solid Onigbinde’s team that impressed in Cote d’Ivoire.

Onigbinde would also unleash previously unknown Rashidi Yekini who would go on to become Nigeria’s undisputed top scorer till date with 37 goals.

His AFCON goals account of 13 till date still remains unchallenged.

Rashidi Yekini shakes the net at 1994 World Cup

The team beat Egypt via penalties in the semis to set up the final with Cameroon to begin an AFCON rivalry that still stands till date.

Lawal had put his country’s noses in front after just 10 minutes but the supremely impressive Roger Milla-led side rallied to a 3-1 finish to silence their arch rivals to win their first ever AFCON title.

Zambia were Green Eagles’ killjoy two years later in Egypt as Eagles failed to qualify for AFCON finals for the first time since 1976.

Maroc’88 significantly heightened Nigeria/Cameroon rivalry as new German coach Manfred Hoener assembled hugely team-playing defensive-minded team.

The AFCON in Morocco was also the first time Eagles featured a good number of foreign-based players as no fewer than five players were invited from overseas to fight for national honours.

The Green Eagles would beat Algeria in the pulsating penalty shootout – the record longest lasting penalty shootout – to set up another final against arch rivals Cameroon.

Indomitable Lions of Cameroon captain Emmanuel Kunde made no mistake from the spot for the only goal of the exciting final that also saw referee Mauritanian Idrissa Sarr inexplicably rule out Henry Nwosu’s downward header to hand Cameroon a second AFCON title.

Keshi, who had grown in leaps and bounds since making his debut in Libya in 1982, also added some flavours to the impressive Hoener side by shuttling between Morocco and Belgium where he had become a cult figure at RSC Anderlecht.

Dutch man Clemens Westerhof arrived in late 1988 to replace interim coach Paul Hamilton, who had taken over from departed Hoener, to begin what would become the glorious golden age of modern football in Nigeria.

Record man Keshi surrounded by Nigeria stars past and present in 2013

Till date, no coach – foreign or local – has achieved more than the flamboyant “Dutchgerian”

Westerhof’s first major task was to annex the AFCON title from Egypt’s and Cameroon’s grip.

Keshi and some other foreign-based stars had mutinied in the build up to the AFCON which also coincided with the Italia’90 World Cup qualifiers and Westerhof called their bluff and stubbornly handed the nation a 22-man final squad made of only three foreign-based players.

After a scandalous 5-1 hammering Algeria handed Westerhof and his boys in the group’s opening game, the resurgent side did the unthinkable by galloping all the way to the final to reverse the tie.

Though the Fennecs beat them by an odd Menad Djamal goal, the Green Eagles put up a spirited fight to keep Westerhof’s mission on course.

Onigbinde’s protege Rashidi Yekini added to his AFCON’s one goal he achieved at Maroc’88 by finishing with three goals, one goal less than the top scorer Djamal.

“Policeman” Moses Kpakor “policed” his way into the Team of the tournament to become the only Nigerian in the tournament’s Best Eleven.

Algiers’90 also made one of the Eagles – Daniel Amokachi – AFCON’s first ever youngest player when he filed out for his team at 17 years and 1 month.

Two years later in Senegal, the Green Eagles had become Super Eagles and welcomed more foreign-based players and the return of Keshi, Eagles were always the team to beat.

This time it was Ghana that denied Eagles from sipping from the AFCON gold cup as Abedi Pele conspired with his mates to stop their arch rivals 2-1 in the tensed semi-final in Dakar.

However, they put themselves together to beat Cameroon 2-1 in the third place play-off to claim their third bronze medal.

Yekini emerged top scorer with four goals to cap a great outing for his country.

Tunisia’94 was everything for Westerhof and his men as Nigeria beat Zambia 2-1 to win their second AFCON title and their first outside the shores of Nigeria.

2000 AFCON – Akwuegbu vs Morocco

Eagles were super and smoking from start to finish, hitting Gabon 3-0 in the opening game and beating Zambia 2-1 in the hugely competitive but emotional final.

Four Nigerians would make the Team of the Tournament as Eagles recorded the highest number of players in the tournament’s ceremonial best eleven till date.

The final which had Emmanuel Amuneke netting the two goals, was the only game the then Zamalek winger played in the finals.

After missing both 1996 and 1998 editions due to CAF sanctions due to strained diplomatic relations in the international community during the military rule of late General Sani Abacha, Eagles returned to AFCON without Westerhof, but his former assistant Johannes “Jo” Bonfrere when Nigeria co-hosted the finals with Ghana in 2000.

The AFCON final rivalry with Cameroon was rekindled again this time before their home fans in Lagos, losing in the ill-fated lottery of penalties as Victor Ikpeba’s kick actually crossed the line, but the referee with the help of Ikpebsa’s body language, gifted Cameroon the title against Nigeria for the record third time.

The 2000 AFCON would be remembered for the mother of all battles against Senegal in the quarter-final when Julius Aghahowa’s two goals averted an impending disaster before their home crowd at the National Stadium in Lagos.

Victor Ikpeba agony after he thought he missed his penalty vs Cameroon at 2000 AFCON final

Mali 2002 was the first time indigenous coach – Amodu Shuaibu – led the Eagles since 1984 when Onigbinde was in charge.

Senegal would come back to shock Super Eagles in the semi-final, beating them 2-1 to deny them their seventh AFCON final when Salif Diao broke the nation’s hearts in the extra time after Aghahowa had evened scores with two minutes left on the clock.

Not only did Aghahowa emerge joint top scorer with three goals, he alongside Taribo West and Ifeanyi Udeze were named in the Team of the Tournament.

Christian Chukwu had replaced Amodu as coach and was mandated to land the country’s third trophy in Tunisia in 2004 but hosts Tunisia had other plans in the semi-final.

However, young striker Osaze Odemwingie and the tournament’s Most Valuable Player Okocha ensured Eagles return home with their fifth bronze medal to finish a great tournament with something to cheer.

Okocha added four individual honours to the honours’ mix, finishing as joint top scorer with four goals, emerging the MVP and scoring the 1000th goal milestone to cap a hugely individual outing for the Super Eagles.

Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and John Utaka also joined Okocha in the Team of the Tournament.

Still parading an indigenous coach Augustine Eguavoen, who had been appointed to take over from his sacked boss, Chukwu, was the man in charge in the 2006 AFCON with a squad arguably the best in the continent.

Controversially, Didier Drogba stopped Eguavoen and his men in what appeared to be an offside goal in the 47th minute in the semi-final in Alexandria.

However, Garba Lawal handed his country their sixth bronze medal with his 79th minute lone goal against Senegal in the third place game.

Two years later in Ghana, German coach Berti Vogts led Eagles to their first disastrous AFCON outing since Libya in 1982.

Hosts Ghana pipped their arch rivals 2-1 in the quarter-finals as Eagles returned home empty handed.

Shuaibu returned for his second AFCON outing in Angola in 2010, but only added another bronze medal to the Eagles’ honours’ cabinet.

Ghana, it was for the second time in a row stopped Eagles’ gold quest, this time in the semi-final after Asamoah Gyan’s 21st minute goal proved so difficult for the Eagles.

Victor Obinna Nsofor consoled his country with yet another bronze medal with his 56th minute decider against Algeria in the third-place game in Benguela.

Mikel, Obasi at 2010 AFCON in Angola

Guinea denied Eagles the 2012 AFCON ticket co-hosted by Gabon and Equitorial Guinea, but they returned a year later in South Africa as CAF reverted the hosting year to an odd year for a clean sweep of honours.

Parading six local players, indigenous coach Stephen Keshi entered history books by winning the AFCON title both as a player and a coach.

The lone strike by Nigeria Professional Football League player Sunday Mba in the 40th minute against Burkina Faso handed Nigeria a third AFCON title.

Emmanuel Emenike emerged top scorer with four goals and was also named alongside four others in the Team of the Tournament.

Joseph Yobo shows off the AFCON trophy in Nigeria

Eagles were also ruthless in their gold rush, winning four out of the six games, scoring 11 goals and conceding just four.

Surprisingly missing the subsequent two editions, Eagles returned in Egypt in 2019 to fight for honours.

Franco-German coach Gernot Rohr had taken over from Sunday Oliseh, but led Eagles to fall in the semi-final against champions Algeria as Eagles claimed their record eighth bronze medal.

Striker Odion Ighalo emerged top scorer with five goals and was also named in the Team of the Tournament.

Eagles open their 2021 Cameroon AFCON account against Egypt tomorrow evening and it remains to be seen if they will add their fourth AFCON title to their honour’s cabinet on February 6.

Super Eagles Milestones

*After failing in five previous attempts, Nigeria made their second appearance at AFCON in 1976.

*Nigeria have emerged top scorer including jointly six times at AFCON.

*Rueben Agboola became the first-ever player of mixed parentage to play at AFCON when he made Westerhof’s team to Senegal in 1992.

*Godwin Odiye was the first foreign-based player to play at AFCON for his country and that was in 1980.

*Tunisia’94 was the first time all foreign-based players save for three unattached players – Stephen Keshi, Nduka Ugbade and Thompson Oliha – featured for the country at AFCON.

*2004 AFCON had in attendance for the first two players of mixed parentage – Osaze Odemwingie and George Abbey – though the latter was born in Port Harcourt.

*Muda Lawal became the first player to appear in most AFCON finals in 1984. He attended the continental soccer event five times (1976, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984).

Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha

*Nwankwo Kanu and Daniel Amokachi are two notable strikers that failed to score at AFCON

*Rashidi Yekini became the first Eagles star to emerge both top scorer and most valuable player at AFCON. The late marksman achieved this feat at Tunisia’94.

* Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha scored the 1000th goal of AFCON at Tunisia 2004 AFCON.

*Super Eagles have scored a total of 133 goals in AFCON finals – this figure includes the two goals awarded them in 1978 when Tunisia walked off the pitch in protest to Baba Otu Mohammed’s equalizer in the third-place play-off in Accra.

*Super Eagles have missed the AFCON party 15 times.

*Three Nigerian players – Yekini, Okocha and Emmanuel Emenike – have finished both top scorer and most valuable player at AFCON.

*Etim Esin remains the biggest name in Nigeria football to miss out on an AFCON

Source: Score Nigeria

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