With the eagerly anticipated 5th edition of the African Nations Championship tournament (aka CHAN) commencing on the 13th of January 2018, I look back at 5 of the most memorable moments for the Super Eagles in the competition for players plying their trade in their respective domestic leagues only.
1) First ever qualification: After having failed to qualify for the first 2 editions of the tournament in 2009 and 2011, Super Eagles fans were over the moon when, on the 6th of July 2013, goals from Gambo, Mba (2 goals) and Edeh gave Nigeria a 4:1 home victory over mighty Ivory Coast in the first leg of the last round of the CHAN qualifiers.
This ensured that only a capitulation of the highest order would see the Eagles fail to qualify for the tournament for the first time.
The initial joy of the fans proved not to be premature as a 2:0 away defeat to the Elephants in the second leg of the qualifiers still gave the Eagles an aggregate 4:2 victory.
In the tournament proper Ejike Uzoenyi and co played some of the most beautiful football ever seen from any home-based Nigerian team to date. In fact, it was breath-taking at times.
2) Charming Chikatara: Popularly called Kolanut boy, Chisom Chikatara was to take the 2016 African
Nations Championship by storm.
Although the Sunday Oliseh led Super Eagles failed to qualify for the knock-out stages, Chikatara still managed to be a joint highest goal scorer of the tournament with 4 goals to his name.
Coming in as a substitute in the 58th minute of Nigeria’s first group match against Niger, the then Abia Warriors star set the match ablaze by scoring delicious goals in 75, 81 and 90 minutes of the match which ended 4-1 in favour of the Super Eagles.
The best of his goals was the first one where he chested down a cross from right of the midfield, beat one defender and crashed his shot to back of the net.
In the second group match, he also came from the bench to score in Nigeria 1:1 draw against torrid Tunisia.
3) Winning Bronze in 2014: Failure to qualify for the knock-out stages of the competition in 2016 make the bronze winning feat of the marvellous 2014 Super Eagles team all the more impressive.
On the 1st of February 2014, a solitary goal from Christian Obiozor in the 85th minute against Zimbabwe was enough to ensure that the home-based Super Eagles cemented their position as one of the top 3 home-based African national teams at the time.
The goal itself was simply and utterly brilliant. Meeting an in-swinger from Ejike Uzoenyi deep in the 18-yard box, the Kano Pillars FC striker rose highest between two defenders to navigate the ball into the net with a powerful header – a joy to watch!
Despite Nigeria claiming the 3rd spot, Ejike Uzoenyi still emerged as the best player of the tournament.
4) Continued dominance of South Africa: Up to that point, Nigeria had never lost to South Africa in any competitive match in over 20 years and Super Eagles fans were anxious that this was about to come to an end in this tournament.
If you put it in perspective, the make-up of the home-based South African national team was not too different from their full national team.
Also, not meaning to bring down the Nigerian Professional Football league but quite simply, the South African football league was much better run, better funded with better facilities and of far greater standard than the Nigerian league.
So, the CHAN group match against South Africa on the 19th of January 2014 was one that a lot of Nigerian fans had written off the chances of the Super Eagles.
However, against all odds, a brace from Uzoenyi and a goal from Ede gave the home-based Eagles an emphatic 3:1 victory against the host – and boy did I enjoy it!
5) Fantastic comeback victory from 3:0 down: Perhaps the most magical moment yet for the home-
based Super Eagles in any tournament was that miraculous 4:3 victory against mighty Morocco in the quarter finals of the 2014 edition of CHAN.
Depending on how long you have been following Nigerian football, various Nigerian teams have shown remarkable character to literally snatch victories at the jaws of defeat.
Do you remember 1989, 1996 or 1998?
On the 25th of January 2014, the home-based Super Eagles were losing against Morocco 3:0 by the 48th minutes of their quarter final CHAN match. Surely it was game over, right?
In a remarkable resurrection of the resourceful spirt of old, associated to Nigerian teams, goals from Ogonna, Ali, Uzoenyi and Ibrahim gave the Eagles an astonishing 4:3 victory against the odds.
The best of the goals was Uzoenyi’s 90th minute equalizer. Picking the ball from outside the 18-yard box, he changed his body direction to deceive 2 Moroccan defenders before unleashing a fearsome long range shot that smashed into the back of the net – the Moroccan keeper stood no chance.
There you have it; those are my 5 memorable moments for the Super Eagles in previous CHAN tournaments.
Here is wishing Coach Salisu Yusuf’s Eagles a memorable outing in the upcoming tournament.