The year was 2013 and the late Stephen Keshi had assembled an unfancied Super Eagles team for the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa. Keshi’s boys were not ranked among the favourites heading into the tournament, but they defied the odds to lift Nigeria’s third African title.
The triumph in South Africa was the last time the Super Eagles appeared at the continental football showpiece as they missed the 2015 and 2017 editions. They are set to return to the tournament in 2019 after qualifying with a match to spare.
Nigeria’s qualification campaign did not start well, with newly appointed manager Gernot Rohr leading the team to a disappointing home defeat against South Africa. Following that defeat in Uyo, the Eagles went on to navigate a difficult group to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
The Super Eagles carried their good form into the AFCON qualifiers, claiming a 3-0 victory away at Seychelles in their second match to get their campaign back on track. A crucial doubleheader against tricky Libya was next but Roh’s men stood up to be counted.
The Eagles emerged victorious in both fixtures, a dominant 4-0 win in Kaduna and a 3-2 triumph in the reverse fixture. Striker Odion Ighalo scored five goals in both matches as Nigeria shot to the top of the table.
The three-time African champions prepared to face South Africa once again, who had dropped to second in the standings after being held by Seychelles. Rohr’s men went into the clash in Johannesburg knowing a point was good enough to see them through to next year’s tournament in Cameroon.
Nigeria had vengeance on their minds and were keen to make amends for the defeat in the reverse fixture. Their early dominance yielded a ninth-minute goal but they were pegged back midway through the first half and had to settle for a 1-1 draw.
It was enough for the West Africans to book a return to the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in six years. They still have a final clash against Seychelles to come in March and will be keen to wrap up their campaign with a win and secure top spot in the group.
Just like at the 2018 World Cup, the Super Eagles will be parading one of the youngest squads in Cameroon next year. Many of the players in the team will be making their first appearance at the AFCON, but having already played at the World Cup they have valuable tournament experience.
There is undoubted talent in the team with the likes of Ahmed Musa, Samuel Kalu, William Troost-Ekong, Leon Balogun and Alex Iwobi leading the way. Nigerian football fans can be hopeful of a positive showing in Cameroon.
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