Dutchman Jo Bonfere led one of the Super Eagles’ most talented teams to the 22nd Edition of the African Cup of Nations, but they succumbed at the final hurdle to the superior firepower of the Indomitable Lions.
That Nigeria team boasted the talents of Juventus’ Sunday Oliseh, PSG’s Austin Okocha, Chelsea’s Celestine Babayaro, Arsenal’s Nwankwo Kanu, Borussia Dortmund’s Victor Ikpeba, AC Milan’s Taribo West and Real Betis’ George Finidi, among others.
Most of them were in the peak of their careers, and playing for some of the biggest clubs in the world.
And with Nigeria co-hosting that championship with West African neighbours Ghana, the then-two time continental champions were among the big favourites to lift the trophy.
There was little surprise then when the Super Eagles defeated Tunisia and Morocco while drawing Congo to move to the knockout rounds as Group D leaders.
A Khalilou Fadiga-inspired Senegal proved stubborn in the quarterfinals, but a Julius Aghahowa brace earned Nigeria an extra-time victory.
Tijani Babangida netted the brace that shot down South Africa in the semifinals to usher the Super Eagles into their first AFCON final since their 1994 triumph.
Eternal rivals, Cameroon, had also made their way to the finals after winning three of their five games at the tournament.
In Patrick Mboma and Samuel Eto’o, the Lions had two of Africa’s deadliest strikers, and it was the duo who handed the West African giants a two-goal lead with only half an hour played at the National Stadium, Lagos.
But Raphael Chukwu and Okocha dragged Nigeria back on levelled terms, with the game eventually decided on penalties.
Kanu and Ikpeba lost their spot-kicks to break millions of Nigerian hearts and hand Cameroon their third ever AFCON title.
A member of that squad and former Grazer AK forward Benedict Akwuegbu reckons that only luck denied that talented group of Nigerian stars that Africa Cup of Nations trophy on home soil.
“In 2000, we had a mixture of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games soccer gold medalists and also some of the 1994 Super Eagles Nations Cup-winning team and World Cup debutants,” he told Brila.
“That was a very strong team, like that of 1994. It was only unfortunate that we didn’t win the AFCON that year because we lost on penalty kicks to Cameroon in the final. You know, penalty kicks is nobody’s game, it is a matter of luck because it is a lottery, it can go either way.
“Cameroon at that time was a very strong team, everyone knows that. But we put up a good fight. We had a solid and fantastic team then, I must say.”