Irrespective of the result of Wednesday’s 34th Africa Cup of Nations semi-final clash with the Bafana Bafana of South Africa, Nigeria will extend her record of being the country with the most last-four appearances at the continental fiesta.
Since making her debut at the 1963 finals held in Ghana, where she was ejected in the group phase after 3-6 and 0-4 losses to United Arab Republic (Egypt) and Sudan respectively, Nigeria has been at the last-four of the tournament 15 times, and has never failed to win a medal each time.
The Eagles have gone ahead to win the trophy and gold on three occasions, won silver on four occasions and won the bronze medals eight times. They have never lost a third-place match.
On Wednesday, the three-time champions will make a 16th appearance in the semi-finals, in what is their 20th appearance at the competition. The only times Nigeria failed to make the semi-finals were in 1963, 1982, 2008 and 2021.
1982: As Cup holders, the Eagles led by Felix Owolabi started brightly by beating Ethiopia 3-0 in Benghazi, and led Algeria 1-0 in their second match before capitulating 2-1 to the Fennecs. They were manhandled 3-0 by Zambia in their third match and crashed out.
2008: The squad led by Joseph Yobo lost 0-1 to Cote d’Ivoire in their first match in Sekondi, but drew 0-0 with Mali and then defeated Benin Republic 2-0 to reach the quarter-finals. They led Ghana 1-0 before goals by Michael Essien and Junior Agogo toppled the advantage and sent the Eagles back home.
2021: Named the best team of the group phase, the Eagles led by Ahmed Musa defeated Egypt, Sudan and Guinea Bissau in the group phase in Garoua to earn maximum points, only to lose 0-1 to Tunisia in the Round of 16.
Below is a cursory look at all the 15 previous AFCON semi-final matches that Nigeria have been involved in:
11 March 1976: The 1976 finals in Ethiopia were played on league basis – the only tournament in the competition’s history conducted in that format. There was a final round of the competition involving Nigeria, Guinea, Morocco and Egypt. After a 1-1 draw with Guinea, what could be considered as Nigeria’s own semi-final match was against eventual champions Morocco on 11th March 1976. The ever-prolific Baba Otu Mohammed scored for Nigeria in the 57th minute, but the Green Eagles allowed two late goals by Ahmad Faras (elected Africa Player of the Year that year) and Redouane Guezzar. After beating Egypt 3-2 three days later, with goals from Haruna Ilerika (a brace) and Mudashiru Lawal, Nigeria (3 points) finished third in the final classification behind Morocco (5 points) and Guinea (4 points) and were awarded the bronze medals.
14 March 1978: Ahmed Abdulla Nasur put Uganda ahead at the Kumasi Sports Stadium, and Martins Eyo equalized for Nigeria in the 12 minutes into the second half. But Philip Omondi scored for Uganda late on and Nigeria were condemned to the third-place match, where they were awarded a 2-0 win after Tunisia abandoned the game in the 42nd minute in protest at Nigeria’s equalizer by Baba Otu Mohammed.
19 March 1980: Felix Owolabi scored the only goal against Morocco after only nine minutes at the National Stadium, Lagos. Christian Chukwu, Segun Odegbami, Adokiye Amiesimaka and Ifeanyi Onyedika all tried to add to the tally to no avail. The hosts went ahead to win the trophy after beating Algeria 3-0 in the final three days later at the same venue.
14 March 1984: In what was easily the match of the tournament, Egypt Pharaohs, beaten 1-0 by Nigeria four years earlier in a group phase match in Ibadan, raced to a two-goal lead within the half-hour. The Eagles had experienced something similar in their group phase match against Malawi, before Clement Temile restored parity. In Bouake, Stephen Keshi reduced the tally from the penalty spot, following up after the ball crashed against the bar. The captain’s inch-perfect cross in the second half was converted by Bala Ali, whose headed effort saw the ball roll past Thabet El-Batal. Nigeria won 8-7 after a penalty shootout.
23 March 1988: Nigeria went into a first-half lead in Rabat when Sam Okwaraji’s miss-cued shot was diverted into the net by Abderrazak Belgherbi. Algeria equalized with only four minutes left when Rachid Maatar headed home from a corner kick. The two teams went into a marathon penalty shootout after extra time failed to produce a winner. Ademola Adeshina and Yisa Sofoluwe missed for Nigeria, and Belgherbi and Maatar also missed for Algeria. A total of 10 players on each side had taken, including goalkeepers Peter Rufai and Nasrredine Drid. They started all over again, and after Augustine Eguavoen scored, Rufai saved from Lakhdar Belloumi. Nigeria lost the final by a solitary goal to Cameroon in Casablanca four days later.
12 March 1990: The Super Eagles defeated Zambia 2-0, with excellent goals from Uche Okechukwu and Rashidi Yekini in Annaba. In the final played four days later in Algiers, Cherif Oudjani’s long-range effort sailed past Aloysius Agu for the only goal of the match to give Algeria their first continental title.
23 Jan 1992: Regional rivals Ghana and Nigeria started like a house-on-fire in Dakar, and Mutiu Adepoju headed Thompson Oliha’s cross past Edward Ansah in the 11th minute. Abedi Pele restored parity with his own header two minutes before half time, and Ghana won it with a fierce shot into the roof of the net by Prince Polley nine minutes into the second half. Two days later, the Eagles edged Cameroon 2-1 for the bronze medals.
6 April 1994: Michel Bassole headed Cote d’Ivoire in front after 19 minutes, but Benedict Iroha equalized after a mesmerising one-two with Jay Jay Okocha at the Stade El Menzah. Bassole scored again, and Nigeria also scored (through Rashidi Yekini) to make it 2-2 before half time. Both teams threw the kitchen sink at themselves in the second half and during extra time, but there were no more goals and it ended in a penalty shootout. Samson Siasia lost his kick but Bassole and Amani Yao also fluffed for the Elephants. Four days later at the same venue, Nigeria defeated Zambia 2-1 to win the trophy and gold.
10 Feb 2000: Banned from the 1998 finals for their failure to turn up in South Africa in 1996 to defend their title, Nigeria were brimming with vitality as co-hosts with Ghana in 2000. In the semi-finals, Coach Johannes Bonfrere unscrewed the plans of the Bafana Bafana by playing Tijani Babangida from the left side, and he caused them all sorts of problems besides scoring two first-half goals at the National Stadium, Lagos. The Eagles lost the Final to Cameroon three days later after a penalty shootout at the same venue.
7 Feb 2002: At the Stade Modibo Keita, Bouba Diop put Senegal ahead early in the second half. Wilson Oruma failed to convert a penalty kick, but Julius Aghahowa made it 1-1 two minutes from the end. In first-half of extra time, Lassina Diao got the winner for Senegal, and the Eagles were condemned to third place. They defeated hosts Mali 1-0 in the city of Mopti two days later to win the bronze.
11 Feb 2004: The November 7 Stadium in Rades was a cauldron of noise and passion as the Eagles, who had eliminated Cup holders Cameroon in the quarter-finals, took the kick-off against the host nation. Jay Jay Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu made life difficult for the Khaled Badri-led defence but the first half produced no goal. There were 60,000 spectators whose whistling rang out each time more than that of Beninoise referee Bonaventure Codjia Coffi. Nigeria went ahead when Okocha scored from the spot after Kanu was double-teamed in the box. Badra levelled from the spot as well eight minutes from time, after Seyi Olofinjana tripped Ziad Jaziri. In the penalty shootout, Peter Odemwingie lost his kick and Nigeria were sent to the third-place match after Karim Haggui beat Vincent Enyeama. The Eagles won the third-place match by beating Mali 2-1 back in Monastir three days later, with goals by Okocha (who would emerge the tournament’s Most Valuable Player) and Odemwingie.
7 Feb 2006: Nigeria, who had again eliminated the Cup holders (Tunisia) in the quarter-finals, survived a torrid first half at the Alexandria Stadium. In the second half, Joseph Enarkharire mis-timed his leap from a high ball and Didier Drogba sneaked in to beat Enyeama from close range. It was the only goal of the game, and the Eagles would beat Senegal by a solitary goal from Garba Lawal in Cairo to pick up the bronze medals.
28 Jan 2010: Asamoah Gyan scored the only goal of the match from a corner kick at the Estadio 11 de Novembro in Luanda. It meant the Eagles had to go back to Benguela, where they prosecuted their group phase matches, for the third- place match against Algeria, which they won with a goal by Obinna Nsofor after a sublime pass by Nwankwo Kanu.
6 Feb 2013: Nigeria had sensationally eliminated in-form Cote d’Ivoire in the quarter-finals, and arrived at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban as clear favourites against Mali. Elderson Echiejile, Brown Ideye and Emmanuel Emenike scored before half time, and Ahmed Musa added a fourth on the hour. The Eagles went ahead to defeat Burkina Faso in the final played four days later at Soccercity, the only goal scored by Sunday Mba.
14 July 2019: Nigeria had eliminated Cup holders Cameroon in the Round of 16, and then kicked out South Africa (who eliminated hosts Egypt) in the quarter-finals. Five minutes from recess against Algeria at the Cairo International Stadium, William Ekong inadvertently diverted the ball into his own net. Odion Ighalo, who would emerge tournament top scorer, scored from the spot to level in the second half. But the Fennecs flew into the Final after Riyad Mahrez’s vicious shot from a free-kick deep in added time sailed past Daniel Akpeyi. Ighalo scored the only goal of the third-place match against Tunisia three days later to give Nigeria the bronze medals.