The Nigeria national football team, known as the “Super Eagles”, represents Nigeria in international association football and is controlled by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF). They are three time African Champions. During April 1994, the Super Eagles ranked 5th in the FIFA World Rankings, the highest ranking achieved by an African football team. They have qualified for four of the last five FIFA World Cups, and reached the round of 16 three times. They made their first appearance at the tournament in the United States in 1994.
After playing other colonies in unofficial games since the 1930s, Nigeria played its first official game in October 1949, while still a British colony. The team played warm up games in England against various amateur teams like Dulwich Hamlet, Bishop Auckland and South Liverpool. The team’s first major success was a gold medal in the 2nd All-Africa games, with 3rd place finishes in the 1976 and 1978 African Cup of Nations to follow. In 1980 the team had such players as Leyton Orient’s John Chiedozie and Tunji Banjo, and the Muda Lawal/Christian Chukwu-led Super Eagles won the Cup for the first time in Lagos. Nigeria won the men’s football event at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, beating Mexico, Brazil and Argentina in the process. They were runners up in the same event, losing to Argentina in a rematch of the 1996 event.
In 1984 and 1988, Nigeria reached the Cup of Nations final, losing both times to Cameroon. Three of the four African titles won by Cameroon have been won by defeating Nigeria. Missing out to Cameroon on many occasions has created an intense rivalry between both nations. Two notable occasions; narrowly losing out on qualification for the 1990 World Cup and then the controversial final of the 2000 African Cup of Nations where a goal scored by Victor Ikpeba during a penalty shoot out was disallowed by the referee.
Nigeria finally reached the World Cup for the first time in 1994. They were managed by Clemens Westerhof. Nigeria topped their group which included Argentina, Bulgaria, and Greece. Nigeria defeated Bulgaria 3–0, lost to Argentina 1–2, and reached the second round after a 2–0 victory over Greece. In the second round Nigeria played Italy and took the lead with a goal from Emenike at 25 min. Nigeria were within two minutes of qualifying for the Quarter-finals of the 1994 World Cup in the game against Italy but Roberto Baggio scored to take the game to extra time. He also scored the eventual winning goal. The game ended 2–1 in favour of the Italians.
In 1998 Nigeria returned to the World Cup alongside Cameroon, Morocco, Tunisia, and South Africa. Optimism was high due to its manager Bora Milutinović and the return of most 1994 squad members. In the final tournament Nigeria were drawn into group D with Spain, Bulgaria, Paraguay. Nigeria scored a major upset by defeating Spain 3–2 after coming back twice from being 1–0 and 2–1 down. The Eagles qualified for the second round with a win against Bulgaria and a loss to Paraguay. The team’s hopes of surpassing its 1994 performance was shattered after a 1–4 loss to Denmark.
The 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan, saw Nigeria again qualify with optimism. With a new squad and distinctive pastel green kits the Super Eagles were expected to build on its strong performances in the 2000 and 2002 African Cup of Nations. Nigeria were drawn into group F with powerhouses Sweden, Argentina, and England. The first game against Argentina started with a strong defence that kept the first half scoreless. In the 61st minute Gabriel Batistuta breached the Nigerian defence to put Argentina in the lead 1–0 and win the game. Nigeria’s second game against Sweden saw them take the lead but later lose 2–1. Nigeria then drew 0–0 with England and bowed out in the first round.
Nigeria missed out on qualification for the 2006 World Cup after finishing level on points in the qualification group with Angola, but having an inferior record in the matches between the sides.
2010 World Cup
On 14 November 2009, Nigeria qualified for the 2010 World Cup after defeating Kenya by 3–2 in Nairobi.
Nigeria lost its opening match against Argentina 1–0 at Ellis Park Stadium following a Gabriel Heinze header in the 6th minute. In its second game Nigeria led early on by a goal from Kalu Uche. A red card against Sani Kaita gave Greece the advantage. Greece scored the equaliser late in the first half and Nigeria conceded the second goal in the second half and lost the game 2–1. They then drew 2–2 with South Korea with goals from Kalu Uche and Yakubu but failed to qualify for the next round. On 30 June 2010, following the team’s early exit and poor showing, the President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan suspended the national football team from international competition for two years. This suspension put the team at risk of being banned from international football by FIFA for reasons of political interference.
On 5 July 2010, the Nigerian government rescinded its ban of the national football team from FIFA/CAF football competitions, but the sanction of suspension was applied by FIFA some three months after. On 4 October 2010, Nigeria was indefinitely banned from international football due to government interference following the 2010 World Cup. Four days later, however, the ban was “provisionally lifted” until 26 October, the day after the officially unrecognised National Association of Nigerian Footballers (NANF) dropped its court case against the NFF.
Nigeria’s campaign opened with a disappointing 0-0 draw over Iran. Four days later the team played their second game against Bosnia and Herzegovina. A 29th-minute Peter Odemwingie goal gave Nigeria their first World Cup win since 1998. They faced Argentina in the final game: a 3rd minute Lionel Messi goal for the opposition was followed almost instantly with an equalizer by Ahmed Musa. Messi gave Argentina the lead back just before half-time. In the second half Musa leveled the game out again, only for Marcos Rojo to put Argentina 3-2 ahead minutes later. Nigeria lost the match, but still qualified for the round of 16.
In the Round of 16, Nigeria faced France, and held them off until the 79th minute when a Paul Pogba header gifted France the lead. An own goal by Joseph Yobo in injury time put the result beyond any doubt: Nigeria was out. This is the third time Nigeria is eliminated in the round of 16 and they have yet to enter in Quarter-finals in the FIFA World Cup.