- China Acheru
In 1984, Nigeria met Cameroon for the first time in an Africa Cup of Nations match and it was the final of the 1984 edition. After scoring first through Muda Lawal, the Eagles lost the game 3-1.
Between then and now, Nigeria have played against Cameroon five times in the AFCON including two more finals with the Central Africans having an even report against Nigeria in the AFCON winning 2, drawing 2 and losing 2.
On Saturday, Nigeria play against Cameroon again, this time in the Round of 16 so we revisit some great battles between both sides
The battle of Abidjan
Adegboye Onigbinde, coach of the Green Eagles had taken a young team to the AFCON.
Players like Yisa Sofoluwe, Stephen Keshi, Sunday Eboigbe, Bright Omokaro, Ademola Adesina, Henry Nwosu, Chibuzor Ehilegbu, Paul Okoku etc were quite young with at least half of the team playing in their first ever AFCON.
However, Henry Nwosu, who was an integral part of the team told NigerianFootballer.com that they were all charged up for that final game.
“The spirit was high and we were all happy having qualified for the final after 1980 when we won the Cup. There were about five of us from the 1980 team and we tried to encourage the others to put in their best so we could win again but unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.”
And indeed it wasn’t to be because the Eagles fell like a pack of cards even after taking the lead early through Muda Lawal in the 10th minute.
Between Milla, Mbida and Abega, they ran rings around the Nigerian team and they scored when they wanted.
Rene N’Djeya equalised in the 32nd minute, Theophile Abega almost did a Messi to score the 2nd goal for Cameroon in the 79th minute as the Green Eagles defence just watched him walk past. Of course, credit would have to have gone to Milla for the decisive return pass that left them awestruck.
The third goal by Ebongue is still the reason why Nigerians do not like the Cameroonians when it comes to football.
But Nwosu adds that in spite of the loss, the players were not too disappointed.
“We were happy with ourselves that we were able to beat Algeria that was a crack side at the time. Sometimes you lose concentration, sometimes inexperience comes in.
“I think it was loss of concentration that caused us to lose that Cup. We were really determined to win the Cup. You could also add tension. The Cameroonians had big names and most of our players were in the team for the first time from the junior teams. Apart from myself, Muda Lawal and a few others, we did not even have experienced players in the team,” Nwosu told NigerianFootballer.com.
Undone in Egypt
In 1988, Nigeria was back at the AFCON after missing out the 1986 edition and went straight to the final. In the same group as Cameroon, both countries ended their encounter 1-1.
Sam Okwaraji scored as early as the 2nd minute and the Roger Milla equalised in the 21st, but both teams were in the final again.
Nigeria had a more experienced team this time around. There were still Peter Rufai, Yisa Sofoluwe, Bright Omokaro, Sunday Eboigbe, Stephen Keshi, Henry Nwosu, Rashidi Yekini and Humphrey Edobor from the 1984 final and some new boys like Sam Okwaraji, Austin Eguavoen and Ndubuisi Okosieme thrown into the mix.
Henry Nwosu also insists the spirit was high going into the final game and it was unfortunate they lost.
“The boys were in high spirits. They were ready and raring to go but unfortunately, we couldn’t make it. Not because we were not good but because to an extent the Cameroonian team had more experienced players than we did and the referee was on their side, so to say,” Nwosu told NigerianFootballer.com.
It will be difficult or almost impossible to discuss the 1988 AFCON final from the Nigerian point of view without mentioning Henry Nwosu’s disallowed goal and the fact that the Eagles felt undone by the referee,
“Yes, of course as far as I am concerned that was a very good goal I scored. Like the then Chief Of Army Staff, Augustus Aikhomu said, ‘because of the goal we should be called Super Eagles and not Green Eagles.
“Those were his words. He said the goal was a super goal so the team should no longer be called Green Eagles but Super Eagles and that was how the name changed.
“Apart from the goal, to an extent the officiating was poor. The referee would signal every mistake against us. We on our side too tried to make sure that we do something reasonable to win but it didn’t work for us,” Nwosu said, sadly.
Blame Ikpeba for 2000?
In 2000, the Nigerian team had undergone a complete makeover from the one that won the AFCON in 1994.
After withdrawing from the 1996 edition and being suspended from the one in 98, the team returned to 2000 as co-hosts with Ghana.
Nigeria made it to the final in Lagos with a team that included the likes of Ike Shorunmu, Iyenemi Furo, Godwin Okpara, Celestine Babayaro, Sunday Oliseh, Austin Okocha, Victor Ikpeba, Finidi George and Tijani Babangida amongst others.
Samuel Eto’o and Patrick Mboma put the Cameroonians two goals up midway into the first half, then Ndukwe Chukwu and Austin Okocha scored to draw Nigeria level.
In the ensuing penalty shootouts, Nwankwo Kanu missed the 3rd kick and Ikpeba the 4th. Even though Sunday Oliseh scored the 5th kick, it was too late and Cameroon had won again.
Nigerians, however, blame Victor Ikpeba for the loss because he had his hands on his head after his kick went off the crossbar, then hit the goal line before bouncing off.
The consensus opinion was that his reaction led on the referee to disallow the goal even though it crossed the line.
Patrick Ngwaogu is a Match Reader/Assistant Coach of Abia Warriors Football Club that watched the game and he told NigerianFootballer.com that it is still like a nightmare to him until this day.
“I watched it and the defeat to Cameroon in 2000 was a nightmare. We had the game under control and lost, maybe because of the politics of the game.
“Ikpeba’s timidity caused us that of 2000. I remain disappointed in him, in giving the impression that he lost a penalty kick that actually crossed the line,”
These are not the only times Nigeria has played Cameroon in the AFCON. In 1992, Nigeria won 2-1 in the 3rd place match with goals from John Okon and Friday Ekpo and then in 2004, Nigeria won in the quarterfinals, John Utaka scoring the decisive one.
However, the three Cup final losses to the same country in sixteen years must not be forgotten by any Nigerian or Super Eagles’ player.