By Emeka Obasi
There is no cause for alarm, Nigeria will beat Cameroon today, but the Eagles cannot win the 2019 Africa Nations Cup. The 2-0 loss to Madagascar turned the tide against the 2013 champions and Egypt is not a favourable ground.
Eagles must knock out the Indomitable Lions, because they are tormentors of defending champions. Except in 2010 when Egypt won 3-1 in Angola, no defending African champions ever defeated Nigeria.
It all began at Ethiopia ’76, when defending champions, Leopards of Congo Democratic Republic [Zaire ] fell 4-2 in Dire Dawa. Ghana Black Stars were subdued 2-1 at Cote D’ Ivoire ’84 while it ended barren with Pharaohs of Egypt at Maroc ’88.
Elephants of Cote D’ Ivoire slumped at Tunisia ’94. Ten years later, again in Tunisia, Cameroon lost 2-1. The Carthage Eagles of Tunisia lost out at Egypt 2006 and Chipolopolo of Zambia got a 1-1 draw in South Africa. Today in Egypt, the Indomitable Lions are defending the trophy. I do not see them winning.
One result that will work against Nigeria is the 2-0 loss to debutants, Madagascar, in their last group B match. A draw would have seen them cruising to cup glory and even when the new comers were two goals up, I thought of a 2-2 tie.
Eagles never lost to Afcon debutants. That was before the Madagascar humiliation. In 1978, a Segun Odegbami braced after early goals by Christian Chukwu and Adokiye Amiesimaka, gave Nigeria a 4-2 victory over Burkina Faso [Upper Volta] in Accra.
Tanzania made their debut in 1980. In the opening game, Nigeria welcomed them with a 3-1 win, courtesy of Muda Lawal, Ifeanyi Onyedika and Odegbami respectively. Malawi came in 1984, and were forced to a 2-2 draw, thanks to Clement Temile’s goals.
At Tunisia ’94, Gabon received an unpleasant 3-0 reception from the Eagles. In the next ten years, Tunisia 2004, Benin Republic, playing with the Nigerian trio of Moussa Latoundji, Muri Ogunbiyi and Jonas Oketola, lost 2-1 to Nigeria.
A draw against Madagascar would have boosted Eagles’ chances of repeating History. All three times, they won the Nations Cup, the Nigerians played a draw in, at least, one of their group matches.
When Nigeria hosted, it ended goalless with the Ivorians. At Tunisia ’94, Eagles bagged another scoreless draw with Egypt. South Africa 2013 gave Nigeria two drawn games and their opponents, Burkina Faso and Zambia respectively, got late minute goals to equalize 1-1.
Records show that anytime Nigeria lost a game in the early round, the Eagles did not win the cup. Debuting in 1963, Egypt trounced them 6-3 in Kumasi. Sudan added salt to injury with a 4-0 drubbing.
When Nigeria picked the first of legion bronze medals, Morocco beat Super Eagles 2-1 in their group. Libya ’82 was worse. A 2-1 loss to Algeria and 3-0 disgrace by Zambia did not tell the story.
The lead story was that Nigeria went as defending champions and in their last group game against Zambia’s KK Eleven, keeper Peter Fregene, deliberately played the ball into his own net nine minutes to time to increase scores to 3-0.
Algiers ’90 began on a sour note. Algeria bombed Nigeria 5-1 in the opening duel. In 2004, Morocco beat Eagles 1-0 and Cote D’I voire did the same at Ghana 2008. Egypt thrashed the Nigerians 3-1 at Angola 2010.
Losing to Madagascar in Alexandra means the Super Eagles have played themselves out of cup glory. Even if they are lucky to go all the way to the grand finale, History does not favour them to win.
Taking the Nations Cup to Egypt, does Nigeria more harm than good. When Egypt first hosted in 1959, the Eagles, then known as Red Devils did not qualify. Egypt hosted again in 1974, it was a sad story.
The Green Eagles lost 5-1 to Zambia in Lusaka with Joe Erico in goal. The Lagos first leg ended 3-2 against the visitors. Emma Okala manned the post. This was the same Eagles team that won All Africa Games soccer gold in 1973.
General Yakubu Gowon was so angry that he disbanded the team. The Zambians went ahead to distinguish themselves in Cairo. They got a 2-2 draw in the final forcing the Nations Cup grand finale to be replayed for the first time. Zaire won 2-0.
In 1986, Egypt hosted. Nigeria did not qualify. They were knocked out again by Zambia. And that was how Muda Lawal, the first player to play in five consecutive African Nations Cup
championships, hung his cleats.
The very first time the Eagles played the Nations Cup in Egypt was 2006. After eliminating defending champions, Tunisia, in the quarter-finals, they lost to Didier Drogba’s lone goal for the Elephants in the semis.
It is difficult to forgive Guinea. Sylli National stopped Nigeria from playing in the 2012 edition of the Nations Cup. It turned out to be the last time Dele Aiyenugba would play for Nigeria. That is part of the story.
The real gist is that the first time Nigeria played against Guinea at the Nations Cup, Eagles were beaten twice by another team, and failed to win the cup.
It was Nigeria 1, Guinea 1 in Ethiopia, 43 years ago. Muda got the opener seven minutes into the second stanza, Papa Camara drew Guinea level two minutes to time. Morocco beat Nigeria 2-1 in the group stage, and 3-1 in the second round. Algeria also beat Nigeria twice in 1990 and won the cup like the Red Atlas Lions did in 1976.
Sylli are in Egypt now and played in the same group with the Eagles who triumphed 1-0 when both sides met.
No matter what the Nigerians do in Egypt, history is not on their side. Captain Mikel Obi deserves encomiums even if the going is bad. Sad enough, his Nations Cup debut was in Egypt, and this is where he will leave the stage.
For Alex Iwobi, my wish is for him to score his first Nations Cup goal. His uncles, Emma and Jay Jay, scored in North Africa: Algeria and Tunisia, respectively.