Although it’s not a secret that Nigeria is a nation divided along ethnic lines, tribal differences are always put aside whenever the National team are playing. Football is the most unifying factor in the country and that’s why a Hausa man will put his hatred for his Igbo brother aside anytime the Super Eagles are playing.
The Super Eagles command a large following in Nigeria and it’s no wonder the attention of the country is drawn towards them anytime their match is on TV. The Super Eagles are so big that anytime their matches are on, the roads in the country are free of traffic.
I remember how silent the streets of Ibadan was when Super Eagles played Iceland at last year’s FIFA World cup in Russia. Even the taxi drivers had to take a break from work for the two hours the match was on. That particular match drew a lot of audiences including people who don’t follow football.
That’s because the Super Eagles had lost their first match in the competition against Croatia and need to win against the Icelanders to have a chance of progressing to the second round. Nigeria defeated the Strákarnir Okkars that evening courtesy a brace from Ahmed Musa. The Al-Nassr FC star was the most populous man in the country after the match with many even saying he should be the President of the country.
Following the match, beer parlours, night clubs experienced double sales as compared to other nights. A lot of people went out that night to celebrate the team’s victory. While Super Eagles have given us many happy experiences like the one we witnessed on June 2nd 2018, they have also caused a lot of sadness for Nigerians in the past and that’s why we’ll be taking a trip down the memory lane to see times the Super Eagles have broken Nigerians hearts.
Italy vs Nigeria (USA 1994): Appearing in her first World Cup, the Super Eagles went into the game against the Azzuris feeling buoyant following an impressive performance in the group stage. The Super Eagles had served notice of their intentions in the US with a resounding 3-0 defeat of eventual semi-finalists Bulgaria in their opener.
That match provided Nigeria with perhaps their most memorable FIFA World Cup moment: Rasheed Yekini’s ecstatic celebration – arms through the net, tearfully clutching his face – after scoring his country’s first-ever finals goal. The west Africans recovered from a subsequent narrow 2-1 loss to Argentina with a 2-0 win over group whipping boys Greece to finish top of the table on goal difference and were now poised to pluck the Italians from the vine.
It all started well for Clement Westerhoff’s side as Emanuel Ammunike put the Eagles ahead in the 25th minute. The former Barcelona star got on the end of a Finidi George’s corner was deflected by captain Paolo Maldini straight into his path to slot home past the onrushing Italy goalkeeper. Things got better for the Eagles as former Chelsea star Gianfranco Zola was sent off for a challenge on Augustine Eguavoen. However, with just two minutes remaining, Italy levelled scores through Roberto Di Baggio to send the match to extra-time. The Italian completed the comeback as Baggio scored once again, this time from the penalty spot to send the Azzuri’s through and break Nigerian’s heart.
Following the match, Nigerian winger blamed the team’s exit on lack of concentration. “The game is never finished until the referee blows the last whistle. You don’t rejoice. We were holding the ball, playing tap-tap-tap, and we just lost concentration. When you have players like Baggio, they punish you for mistakes like that.”
Denmark vs Nigeria (France 1998): This was Nigeria’s second consecutive World Cup appearance and hoped to do better than the 1994 debut where they went out in the second round. The Eagles started the tournament with one of the shocks of the competition as they beat favourites Spain 3-2. They followed it up with a 2-0 victory over Bulgaria to secure passage a to the second round.
With qualification already secured, the Super Eagles suffered defeat in the last group game to Paraguay. However, they still went into the second round game against Denmark as the favourites.
But it was the Danes that will give the Super Eagles their heaviest World Cup loss as they won 4-1 on the night. The defeat left a bad taste in the mouth of many Nigerians.
Cameroon vs Nigeria (AFCON 2000): Arguably the darkest day in Nigeria’s football history. The match is still talked about till today due to the circumstances that surrounded the match. Going into the final, the Eagles had home advantage on their side, but it was Cameroon that struck the first blow as they took the lead in the 26th minute through Samuel Eto’o. The Indomitable Lions doubled their lead five minutes later through Patrick Mboma to leave the Lagos crowd stunned.
However, the Super Eagles will come back in the second half with two quick-fire goals from Raphael Chuwkwu and Austin Jay Jay Okocha. Both sides had chances to win the game in normal time and extra time but could not convert any as the game went into a penalty shoot-out.
It was where the controversial moment of the match will come from. With both sides level going into the fifth penalty, Ikpeba stepped up to take for Nigeria, only for him to miss. However, replays showed it was actually a goal as the ball clearly crossed the line. Cameroon did not care as they converted the final penalty to send the whole nation into mourning. The game still stands out as one of the bitter moments in Nigeria’s history.
Nigeria vs Argentina (Korean/Japan 2002): This particular match prevented a lot of people from going to Church as it was played on a Sunday morning. Appearing in her third world cup, the Super Eagles were drawn in a group of death that had Argentina, England and Sweden.
Argentina has always been Nigeria’s nemesis at the World Cup and the pattern continued as the Super Eagles went down to a lone goal which left many wondering why they decided to miss church for an inevitable loss.
Nigeria vs South Korea ( South Africa 2010): Though this match didn’t end in a loss for Nigeria, it still left a bitter taste among fans. In what was their Fourth appearance at the World Cup, the Super Eagles were drawn against Argentina, Greece and South Korea. They started the competition with a 1-0 loss to Argentina followed by a 2-1 loss to Greece.
However, they still had a chance of qualification for the next round but needed to beat South Korea in the final game and hope Argentina beat Greece. The La Albisceleste did their job by beating Greece, but the Super Eagles could only manage a draw against South Korea with Yakubu guilty of denying the team victory after he missed an open goal.