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AFCON 2023: Super Eagles in the eye of the storm as history beckons in Cote D'Ivoire

Posted : 27 January 2024

The Super Eagles of Nigeria will, on Saturday, January 27th, be in the eye of the storm to recreate history when they square off against a familiar foe and arch-rival, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, for a chance to progress to the next round of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2023 in Cote D'Ivoire.

It's another time for the Super Eagles to have the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon on their way, having faced the same opposition for a record number of 25 times, while they will now meet for the 26th time in the AFCON 2023 knockout stage.

It is instructive to know that the Super Eagles and their next neighbor, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, are not new to each other. To state the obvious, the Super Eagles have more wins, but the Indomitable Lions have snatched more trophies from Nigeria when both countries met in the finals.

Another interesting thing is that the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon currently have five AFCON trophies in their cabinet, while three of the trophies were won in the finals they played against Nigeria and emerged victorious.

On the flip side, history, pedigree, current form, and turf familiarity are factors weighing heavily in favor of the Super Eagles as they confront the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in the Round of 16 at the 34th Africa Cup of Nations on Saturday.

The five-time champions Cameroon played their group phase games in Yamoussoukro and have now arrived in Cote d'Ivoire’s commercial and industrial capital for Saturday’s potentially explosive encounter with three-time champions Nigeria.

In effect, Nigeria and Cameroon have clashed in 17 competitive matches since their first such encounter in the Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah Cup on December 8, 1962, which Nigeria won 3-1.

Of those 17 matches, Cameroon has won only 4 – three of these in the final matches of the Africa Cup of Nations in 1984, 1988, and 2000. The only other time Cameroon beat Nigeria in a competitive match was on August 27, 1989, when Francois Omam Biyick scored the only goal in Yaounde, eliminating Nigeria from the race to the 1990 FIFA World Cup finals in Italy.

Nigeria has won nine of the other 13 matches, including a 2-1 defeat of Cameroon in the bronze medal match of the 1992 AFCON; a 2-0 triumph in a 1990 FIFA World Cup qualifier in Ibadan; a 3-2 win in Yaounde in a 1970 World Cup qualifier; a 2-1 win in Monastir in a 2004 AFCON quarter-final; a 4-0 win in Uyo in a 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier and; a 3-2 win in Alexandria in a 2019 AFCON Round of 16 clash.

More than the analysis above, the Super Eagles presently boast the Africa Player of the Year in Victor Osimhen, and they have more familiarity with the Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny, where they beat Guinea Bissau 1-0 on Monday to secure their place in this competition’s Round of 16.

Nigeria has also reached the Round of 16 after scooping seven points, unbeaten in their three matches; Cameroon was battered 3-1 by Cup holders Senegal and fought hard to overcome The Gambia in added time to secure a place in the knockout rounds.

As both teams prepare for the big day, it is important to take a cursory look at the seven previous clashes involving Nigeria and Cameroon at the Africa Cup of Nations – the continent’s flagship football championship:

The first date under scrutiny was at the 1984 AFCON final match played at the same Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Abidjan.

This time, Coach Adegboye Onigbinde was at the helm of affairs, and he was able to draft in Patrick Okala for Peter Rufai, who was injured in a bruising semi-final encounter with Egypt. Bala Ali, who got the equalizer in that match, started in place of Chibuzor Ehilegbu, while rapid winger Clement Temile, a two-goal hero against Malawi in the group phase, also started from the bench, with Stephen Keshi, Kingsley Paul, Paul Okoku, Muda Lawal, Humphrey Edobor, Yisa Sofoluwe, and James Etokebe among the starters.

The first goal of the match was scored as Etokebe sprinted to a through pass by Edobor and made a pull-out that Antoine-Bell fumbled for Muda Lawal to lash in Nigeria’s goal. A free-kick late in the first half brushed Keshi’s head to fly past Okala for the equalizer, and Abega put Cameroon in front before Eugene Ekoule’s winner.

The Lions deployed their huge experience and exposure gained at the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain, where they exited at the group phase without losing any of their matches against Poland, Peru, and eventual winners Italy.

Another date came in 1988 at the AFCON group phase match in North Africa, Morocco, played at the Stade Prince Moulay Abdallah, Rabat.

Samuel Okwaraji, who had joined the team the previous year, scored with a scorching left-footed shot after only two minutes, but Cameroon equalized 20 minutes later with a header by Roger Milla. The draw was followed by a 3-0 defeat of Kenya, meaning Nigeria only needed a draw in their next match against Egypt (which they got) to reach the semi-finals.

Goalkeeper Peter Rufai, defenders Yisa Sofoluwe, Andrew Uwe, Sunday Eboigbe, and Bright Omokaro, midfielders Henry Nwosu and Ademola Adeshina, and forwards Okwaraji and Rashidi Yekini were among those involved.

Nigeria and Cameroon met again at the 1988 AFCON final match played at the Stade King Mohamed V, Casablanca.

During the encounter, Nigeria, having just survived a bruising semi-final in which they went to a penalty shootout with Algeria after a 1-1 draw after regulation and extra time, started brightly. Henry Nwosu’s powerful header from Sam Okwaraji’s pull-out on the right sailed past Antoine-Bell, but the referee ruled off the strike. Cameroon then scored 10 minutes into the second half when Eboigbe impeded Roger Milla, and Emmanuel Kunde fired past Peter Rufai from the spot.

The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon crossed the path of the Super Eagles once again during the 1992 AFCON bronze medal match at Stade de l’Amitie, Dakar, Senegal.

With both teams needing to self-motivate after losing their semi-final matches, the Eagles were bumped by Ghana and Cameroon was ejected after a penalty shootout by eventual winners Cote d’Ivoire. Coach Philippe Redon had dropped goalkeeper Antoine-Bell, who lost the crucial penalty against the Ivorians, and brought in Jacques Songo’o. The Lions’ squad also included Emile Mbouh, Benjamin Massing, Cyril Makanaky, Jean-Claude Pagal, and Kessack Maboang.

The Super Eagles of Nigeria, however, had Alloy Agu in goal and also included Emeka Ezeugo, Isaac Semitoje, Nduka Ugbade, Reuben Agboola, Victor Ikpeba, Friday Ekpo, Mutiu Adepoju, Finidi George, and Rashidi Yekini. Ekpo fired home from a 22-yard free-kick to give Nigeria the lead with 15 minutes to go, but the Lions equalized in the 85th minute through Bahoang. The gangling striker, Yekini, who had scored three goals earlier in the tournament (two against Kenya and one against Zaire), got the winner from an acute angle with two minutes left.

Perhaps the most significant and painful match ever between the Super Eagles and the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon was at the 2000 AFCON final match played at the iconic National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, where Cameroon came to snatch the AFCON trophy right under the noses of the Nigerians.

The ill-fated match started with the Super Eagles Coach, Johannes Bonfrere, opting to start without his two sensations, Julius Aghahowa and Tijani Babangida. The latter had netted the two goals against South Africa in the semi-finals, while Aghahowa was the hero of an unexpectedly tough quarter-final duel with Senegal. Instead, Raphael Ndukwe started alongside Finidi George and Nwankwo Kanu.

Right in front of the boisterous 60,000 Nigerian fans, the Lions roared to a 2-0 lead within the half-hour, after Samuel Eto’o found himself in front of Ike Shorounmu from a free-kick on the right and Patrick Mboma also found himself alone with the goalkeeper and simply sent the ball through his legs.

The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon could have been 3-0 up minutes later when Furo Iyenemi headed against the bar while trying to clear, and Shorounmu also left his line to clear desperately.

The Eagles stemmed the tide and came into their own, with Ndukwe, playing his first match of the competition, threading the ball into the net to reduce the deficit before the break. Early in the second half, Okocha released a left-footed rocket that Alioum Boukar had no answer to, and the game flowed from end to end with Geremi Njitap, Lauren Etame Mayer, Salomon Olembe, Marc-Vivien Foe, Pierre Wome, and Rigobert Song all involved against Okocha, Kanu, George, Taribo West, Mutiu Adepoju, and substitutes Aghahowa, Babangida, and Victor Ikpeba.

The match then ended two all and was to be decided with a penalty shootout, with Kanu and Ikpeba failing to score while Foe was the only one who failed to convert for the Lions. The painful loss was the third triumph for the Indomitable Lions.

Nigeria once again met Cameroon at the 2004 AFCON quarter-finals match played at the Stade Mustapha Ben Jannet, Monastir.

It was a bright, sunny day in the Tunisian city of Monastir. Nigeria’s campaign got off on the wrong footing in a 0-1 loss to Morocco in their first match followed, two days later, by Coach Christian Chukwu expelling three key members of the team from their Riyat Palace Hotel for indiscretion.

However, the Eagles pumped South Africa 4-0 and then defeated Benin Republic in Sfax to reach the knockout stage.

The Lions were in the competition as ‘double defending champions’, having won in Ghana-Nigeria 2000 and in Mali 2002. Their jerseys hugged them tightly and physically intimidated opponents, while the then CAF President was Cameroonian!

Hayatou led a large delegation to the VIP stand, and the Cameroonian fans unfurled a mammoth banner in the stands: EAGLES FOR DINNER. Swiftly, they made their intentions known, Samuel Eto’o slotting past Vincent Enyeama after Isaac Okoronkwo missed his clearance.

Can anything go wrong? It did, as Nigeria won a free-kick just before the break and Idris Carlos Kameni could only watch Jay Jay Okocha’s effort nestle firmly in the net. Both teams fought fiercely in a supercharged second period, and as the Lions attacked, the ball came to Nwankwo Kanu, whose visionary pass was neatly converted by John Utaka.

Nigeria got their revenge as the Cup holders were booted out by the same country they rode on their back four years back.

At the 2019 AFCON Round of 16 played at Alexandria Stadium, Alexandria in Egypt, Nigeria once again faced the arch-rival and next neighbor, Cameroon.

The Super Eagles were low in spirit after a shock 0-2 defeat by minnows Madagascar and were in the Round of 16 because they had picked maximum points off Burundi and Guinea. Africa Cup of Nations’ heroes Samuel Eto’o and Nwankwo Kanu were in the stands to support their different teams. Once Botswanan referee Joshua Bondo got the match underway, lethargy disappeared.

Odion Ighalo, who would emerge as the tournament's top scorer, netted for the Super Eagles midway into the first half after a cut-back in the box by Ahmed Musa. Cameroon replied four minutes to the break through Stephen Bahoken, who got the better of Kenneth Omeruo, and there was still time for Clinton N’jie to give them the lead as he slalomed through the Nigerian defence and shot past Daniel Akpeyi.

Cameroon had far more possession of the ball with Christian Bassogog, Collins, Bahoken, and captain Choupo-Moting working hard, but they met a brick wall each time they launched an onslaught. Musa smartly chested the ball for Ighalo from a Chidozie Awaziem cross 18 minutes into the second half, and the poacher booted it past Andre Onana into the net for Nigeria’s equalizer.

The Eagles were in the ascendancy and would not allow the euphoria to fade. Three minutes later, Ola Aina found Ighalo close to the opposition box, and the striker threaded the ball through the legs of Michael Ngadeu to Iwobi, who finished with aplomb. Nigeria had once again booted out the Cup holders.

With Nigeria coming out on top in the knockout stages against Cameroon in most matches, will history repeat itself this time around as the Eagles once again face the Lions in what could be a repeat of the 1984 triumph at the same Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Abidjan? Saturday will surely say it all.



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