Football is the most popular sport in Nigeria, and it is probably the only thing that unites a nation with over 180 million people.
Tribal differences are put aside whenever the country’s national team is in action. Several activities are also put on hold for the two hours Nigeria’s national team will be playing.
The Super Eagles, Super Falcons, Golden Eaglets, Flying Eagles, Super Falconets and Dream Team are the country’s football teams.
And they have been involved in some memorable matches over the past years. Soccernet goes down the memory lane by taking a look at some of the country’s matches of the past that gave the citizens teary eyes.
NB: This list is exclusively for the new millennium matches alone, and it is described from the writer’s view.
Nigeria vs Senegal (AFCON 2002 Semi-final): The two sides had been involved in a dramatic encounter two years earlier as the Super Eagles scored in the 85th minute and extra time to seal a comeback victory at the National Stadium in Surulere.
Senegal were looking for revenge this time, but it started badly for them as Pape Sarr was sent off for a lunge on Garba Lawal.
However, it did not affect them as they took the lead 12 minutes into the second half through Bouba Diop’s header from a Khalilou Fadiga’s cross.
They looked to be on their way to the final until Aghahowa took advantage of Lamine Diatta’s indecision to send the tie into extra time.
Aghahowa’s strike was a strange feeling of deja vu as he scored the brace that knocked out Senegal two years earlier.
Extra-time came, and it was Senegal who once again took the initiative as Salif Diao’s finish put the Teranga Lions ahead.
But there was to be more late drama as Nigeria were awarded a penalty with three minutes to go, but Wilson Oruma’s effort could only hit the post.
Nigeria’s woes were compounded as Aghahowa and Udeze were sent off. It was a disappointing night for Nigerians, and I remember the young me watching from my home in Ibadan could not eat following the game.
Nigeria vs Sweden (2002 World Cup Group F): For people like me, the 2002 World Cup was an inconvenient one as most matches were played during school time.
I remember going to church early to watch our disappointing loss against Argentina. However, while the loss against Argentina was disappointing, it’s the loss against Sweden that hurts.
Nigeria went into the game, knowing they can’t afford to lose. The match was played on a school morning, and I got late to school as a result.
It all started well for Adegboye Onigbinde’s men as Julius Aghahowa put Nigeria ahead with a perfect flying-header. It was all going to plan for Nigeria before Henrik Larsson strike in either half swung the tie in favour of Sweden.
Nigeria tried to find their way back into the game, but Sweden resisted everything they threw at them. The result meant the Super Eagles exited the competition before the last group game.
A day that started brightly was already ruined before noon. I wonder how I got through school that day.
Nigeria vs Morocco (2004 AFCON Group Stage): Although Nigeria managed to reach the semi-finals of this competition, the opening day loss to Morocco was painful.
The kick-off time for the match was 2 pm, and that means most people had to leave work to watch the game. Usually, I walk home from school, but on this day, I had to take a cab to meet up with the kick-off time
However, it all ended in tears as Youssef Hadji’s late strike secured the win for the Atlas Lions. Nigeria would eventually bounce back, but the opening day loss was disappointing, given the stress we all went through to see the match.
Nigeria vs Argentina (World Youth Championship 2005): Managed by Samson Siasia, the Flying Eagles were hoping to be the first African side to win the World Cup at U-20 level.
They came up against a Lionel Messi inspired Argentina in the final. However, a night that began with so much optimism ended on a sad note as two penalties from Messi gave Argentina the title.
Chinedu Ogbuke’s header had restored parity for Nigeria, but Messi’s second penalty of the night broke Nigerians hearts.
Nigeria vs Cameroon (AFCON 2000 Final): Arguably the most heartbreaking match involving Nigeria this millennium. The Super Eagles were joint host alongside Ghana in 2000, and they made it to the final.
Standing between them and a third Africa Cup of Nations title is their nemesis, Cameroon. However, they went into the clash with the unwavering support of the home crowd.
But it was Cameroon that landed the first blow as Samuel Eto’o put the Indomitable Lions ahead before Patrick Mboma doubled the advantage minutes later.
However, Raphael Chukwu halved the deficit for Nigeria just before the break. Austin Jay-Jay Okocha’s wonder striker ensured the match went to extra-time.
Nothing could separate the sides, so it went to the dreaded penalty shootout. Cameroon came out victorious but not without controversy.
After both sided converted their first two penalties, Kanu missed for Nigeria to hand Cameroon the advantage. But Ikpeba had the chance to restore balance after Marc Vivien Foe missed for the Indomitable Lions.
However, it was the moment of controversy as his effort was adjudged not to have crossed the line despite replays showing otherwise.
Ikpeba did not help matters as he held his head in his hands. It was indeed one of the most painful moments not just in Nigerian football, but the Nation’s history.
I remember I was still harbouring hope the match will be replayed, but it was just the wish of a young boy. That evening was probably the first time I cried over a football match.
Nevertheless, football has gotten better as a result of situations like that. Now, there are no arguments with the introduction of goal-line technology.