By Preye Campbell
As Nigeria celebrates 60 years of independence, it becomes only normal to look at the sporting area of the self-acclaimed giant of Africa.
And what a journey it has been! Nigeria’s sporting history has witnessed various landmark moments. For a nation that is super weak on sports development, our achievements should be regarded as proof that, against the darkness of the land comes the light-albeit beams, as we still suffer in darkness- of immeasurable sporting quality.
In the last 60 years, the nation has played witness to some high-profile footballing moments that will be highlighted below;
1980 – Nigeria hosted and won the Africa Cup of Nations
1980’s AFCON success was the the first footballing achievement of any team fielded by Nigeria. At the National Stadium in Surulere, the Green Eagles team wrote their name in the history books after rallying past eight teams to win Africa’s prized football trophy. A squad that fielded the legendary names of Segun Odegbami, Christian Chukwu, Adokie Amiesimaka, Kadiri Ikhana, Henry Nwosu, and Sylvanus Okpala overcame Algeria 3-0 in the final.
1985- U-17 World Cup
In August 1985, Nigeria beat then West Germany 2-0 to win the maiden FIFA U-16 World Cup (it was later changed to U-17 in 1991) tournament in the Far East nation in China. The Sebastian Brodericks led team overcame the European nations with goals from Jonathan Akpoborie and Victor Igbinoba. The win was Africa’s maiden success at a FIFA event and Nigeria’s first of five U-17 victories.
1993- U-17 World Cup
1993 was the fifth edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup and another one for the nation’s sporting history. Again, in Asia, -Japan, to be precise- Nigeria defeated fellow African counterparts, Ghana 2-1 in the final courtesy of a Wilson Oruma header and a Peter Anosike goal. The squad at the time featured Wilson Oruma, Celestine Babayaro, Kanu Nwankwo and Mobi Oparaku.
1994- First World Cup qualification and participation
Perhaps, more exciting was the following year when Nigeria participated in the cream tournament of international football- the FIFA World Cup- in the United States of America.
After securing an all-important draw against Algeria in the qualifying stages, the Super Eagles joined the World Cup party for USA ’94.
The Super Eagles’ first World Cup tournament also remains their best outing in a World Cup tournament, as they made it to the Round-of-16 stage – a feat matched in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil – but failed to overcome Roberto Baggio’s Italy to progress to the last eight. Nigeria has appeared in six World Cup tournaments in total.
1994- Nations Cup success
It seemed quite surprising that a nation producing quality football talent year in, year out had to wait fourteen years to lift another Africa Nations Cup trophy.
The 1994 tournament in Tunisia saw a star-studded Eagles team conquer Africa for their second Nations Cup victory. The late Rashidi Yekini was the match-winner in Tunis.
1996- Atlanta Olympic Games
By a long shot, this remains Nigeria’s most celebrated football and sporting success.
The summer games in the United States is Nigeria’s best participation at the Olympics, generally.
Chioma Ajunwa won the nation her first gold medal in the Long Jump event, while in the other sport that fielded eleven players, Bonfrere Jo’s side famously defeated all odds-literally- to clinch the gold medal.
The Dream Team saw off the likes of Mexico, favourites Brazil and Argentina to create lasting memories in our minds.
2007- FIFA U-17 World Cup
Nigeria became the most successful team at teenage level after recording another World Cup success in South Korea. It was Spain who fell victim this time as a nervy 3-0 penalty shoot out separated the men from the boys. Chrisantus Macaulay of Nigeria emerged top scorer in the tournament.
2009- Nigeria hosts U-17 World Cup
Owing to the pedigree of Nigeria at the U-17 level, FIFA handed hosting rights to the country, and they became the first West-African nation to host the U-17 World Cup.
The tournament was successfully staged in Lagos and the host team lost in the final this time around. A tournament that witnessed the rise of Brazilian superstar Neymar Jr saw Switzerland win by a lone goal.
2013 – U-17 World Cup win in the United Arab Emirates
The U-17 World Cup success keeps coming in, this time in the UAE, where a Kelechi Iheanacho-led Nigeria attack saw off teams to clinch a record fourth title.
The young Nigerian team outclassed Mexico 3-0. Iheanacho received the Golden Ball award for the tournament’s best player and also the Silver Boot with 6 goals and 7 assists.
2013- AFCON victory
Super Eagles’ most recent success came in 2013, when the now late Stephen Keshi resurrected a fledgling team to win the AFCON trophy in South Africa.
The Super Eagles had failed to make the cut in the tournament the previous year in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea but made a comeback in 2013.
The two-time champions were written off many times and were even said to have booked a flight ahead of the quarter-final showdown against the Ivory Coast.
They not only defeated Didier Drogba’s Ivory Coast team 2-1 but humbled Mali 4-0 in the Semi-final and won the final against Burkina Faso through a solitary Sunday Mba strike.
2015- U-17 World Cup win in Chile
It was the year of Victor Osimhen and Kelechi Nwakali as the Golden Eaglets successfully defended their World Cup trophy in Chile. Osimhen emerged as the top scorer with 10 goals as the Eaglets saw off Mali in the final.
Dominance of the Super Falcons
The Super Falcons, Nigeria’s senior women’s football team, remain the most successful women’s team in Africa. Such is their superiority that they have won the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON) trophy a record 11 times out of 13 tournaments overall.
Nigeria hosted and won the tournament in 1991, 1998, 2002, and 2006. So far, the only two editions Nigeria did not win came in the 2008 and 2012 tournaments.