The last time Nigeria’s football team won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1994, the infamous General Sani Abacha was president; South Africa had yet to hold its first democratic elections and Google didn’t exist.
Nineteen years on, the Super Eagles were transformed from outsiders to champions in just 21 days. This unexpected triumph sparked frenzied celebrations across the football-loving nation. As fate would have it, both teams featured Stephen Keshi, who captained the 1994 team and is the current coach of the freshly-crowned champions.
Like most fairy tales, Nigeria’s 1-0 victory over Burkina Faso came against the odds. It followed uninspiring performances leading up to the tournament, including a drab one all draw in their first match against eventual finalists, Burkina Faso. Most Nigerians lost faith when the team scraped into the quarter final against tournament favorites—Côte d’Ivoire. But a masterful display of skill and spirit saw Nigeria record a 2-1 victory.
Belief restored, the Super Eagles soared even higher, comfortably dispatching Mali in the semi-finals, before defeating Burkina Faso by that lone goal scored by Sunday Mba, who plays for Warri Wolves F.C. As the final whistle blew, social media sites ignited with elation. Tweets rolled out by the second.
“Burkina Faso boasted that they would deal with us but we said ‘Mba’ [which translates to ‘No’ in Igbo], not on a Sunday.”
The billionaires went mad too. Aliko Dangote and Mike Adenuga put up cash rewards of $820,000 and $1 million respectively, to the victorious team.
As the celebrations continued late into the night, the memories of previous disappointments were expunged in the excitement. The Super Eagles and their fans now look forward to the FIFA Confederations Cup, to be held this summer in Brazil, where Nigeria will fly ‘Africa’s’ flag.
The fans demand nothing less than a top notch performance at the Confederations Cup and qualification for the World Cup in Brazil next year. It is a huge task for the country’s football administrators. Nigerian football is notorious for squabbles and infighting among its administrators, many of whom are political appointees. Indeed, barely 24 hours after the victory, controversy raged as the coach, Keshi, resigned in an apparent attempt to spite the Football Federation for threatening his position over poor performances. Keshi subsequently rescinded his decision after the Nigerian presidency stepped in to mediate.
It is now hoped that the drama that played out following the victory, will gather a new wave of commitment to put the Federations’ house in order. For Keshi, and his gallant men, the euphoria of securing their place in the history books is a tonic that they will surely savor before worrying about anything else.