A brief history of Nigeria’s performance at AFCON

Super Eagles celebrate!
Super Eagles celebrate!
Nnanna Mba

Unlike the World Cup where Nigeria has only reached the round of 16 thrice, the Africa Cup of Nations is a competition Nigeria has consistently excelled in. They are usually picked as favourites to win it every time, and while they have only won the Cup three times, the Super Eagles have finished 3rd place 15 times since 1976.

While they are used to getting far in the competition, Nigeria has had a rather difficult history in qualifying for it. They have been banned once, withdrawn four times, and didn't qualify as recently as 2012, 2015, and 2017. Interestingly, the Super Eagles have outpaced most of their African counterparts every single time they've qualified. In fact, the last time they were knocked out at the quarterfinals was in 2000.

Their very first appearance in AFCON was in 1963, although they were knocked out of the group stage. They had to withdraw from two competitions - 1965 and 1970 - due to serious political instability and the resulting civil war. By 1976, they qualified and came third place, repeating the same feat in 1978. Their 1963 appearance is historic, not only because it was their first time in the competition, but also because, till date, they have not conceded as many goals as they did in that year's edition of AFCON (10).

The first time the Super Eagles won AFCON was in 1980, the same year that Nigeria hosted the competition. To the surprise of everyone, they conceded only one goal throughout the entire competition. By 1990, they had come runners-up thrice, and were clearly a major force to watch for other African countries.

Another successful spell came in the early 90s when they finished runners-up in 1990, settled for third place in 1992, and won the 1994 edition. The latter part of the decade saw them withdraw from the competition in 1996 due to South Africa's apartheid policies, and get banned from competing in 1998.

The 2000s saw the Super Eagles pick up third place three times in 2002, 2004, and 2006. They lost to archrivals Ghana in the quarterfinals of 2008, making that year the lowest point of the decade for the Super Eagles in AFCON. Although they qualified throughout and had high goal-scoring numbers, they were unable to find a Cup win throughout the decade.

Nigeria had a rollercoaster experience in the 2010s. Surprisingly, they qualified only three times out of a possible six, but also managed to win the 2013 edition, while coming third in the most recent 2019 edition. Their 2019 AFCON outing has been termed as one of their worst defensive performances in recent history, as they conceded a shocking seven goals, their worst since 1984.

The odds, however, are in Nigeria's favour to equalize for 2021's edition of AFCON. While they have a good chance of winning it, they may have to face strong opponents like Sadio Mane's Senegal and Riyad Mahrez's Algeria to fashion a win for themselves.

Edited by Sai Teja


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