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Top 5 painful defeats in Nigeria football history – Which was more painful to you?

Number Five – Nigeria Round of 16 Loss to Italy – USA ‘94 FIFA World Cup
Nigeria was 2 minutes away from reaching the quarter-finals of the world cup for the first time in our very first appearance. The 1994 team was arguably one of the best Nigerian squads at the FIFA World Cup with players like Jay-Jay Okocha, Sunday Oliseh, Rashidi Yekini, Finidi George, Daniel Amokachi, Emmanuel Amunike and many more.

The super eagles were on fire in 1994, we had just won the nations cup three months earlier in April of that year. We were also ranked 5th in the world, seven spots above Italy ranked 13th at the time. At USA 94 World Cup, we were drawn in a tough group with Argentina, Greece and Bulgaria. However, the Super Eagles surpassed all expectations to top the group with 6 points, defeating Bulgaria and Greece although we lost to Argentina. Italy, on the other hand, struggled to reach the Round of 16. They finished third in their group with one win, one loss and one draw. They only qualified to the round of 16 as best third place finishers.


In the round of 16 game, Nigeria showed dominance at the start of the game. Emmanuel Amuneke had scored in the 25th minutes of the game to give Nigeria the lead against Italy. To make matters worse for the Italians, Zola was shown a straight red card for retaliating against Eguavoen and they played with ten men for the rest of the game. Nigeria was 1 nil up in the 88th minute, and it felt like we will be reaching the quarter finals. However, this wasn’t the case. Italy got the equalizer with only 2 minutes left courtesy of Roberto Baggio. Then in extra time, Italy was awarded a penalty in the hundred and second minutes, and Roberto Baggio scored to give Italy the lead and send them to the quarter finals.

We were so close, yet we could not reach the finish line. It was really painful for both the players and the fans. Many fans believe Nigeria would have gone all the way to the finals if we managed to defeat Italy. We would have met Spain in the quarter finals, then Bulgaria for the second time in the semis. Italy however went all the way to the finals before losing to the champions, Brazil 3-2 on penalties. Though I would say the loss was painful, but on the grand scheme of things, reaching the round of 16 in our very first appearance is also commendable.

Number Four – Nigeria 4-1 Loss to Denmark at the France 98 FIFA World Cup Round of 16
Four years after the 1994 heart break, many fans thought Nigeria was going to make up for it in 1998 and we started on a very good note defeating Spain (3-2) and Bulgaria (1-0) in the group stage to secure qualification to the next round before losing the final group game 3-1 to Paraguay although we still won the group.Then came the round of 16 against Denmark. Many people thought we were going to win this easily with some even looking forward to the quarter final game against Brazil. However, the fans were disappointed after the super eagles lost to Denmark 4 goals to one in the round of 16.

The loss was painful, conceding 4 goals against Denmark was a huge shock to many fans. Even one of my subscribers dropped this comment recently “The way we lost to Denmark after beating Spain at France 1998. I have never recovered from that thrashing ever since.” Many years later, Taribo West revealed that some players snuck women into camp before the game against Denmark. So basically, it means some players played two matches in the same day.

Number Three – The Jollof Derby Nigeria Loss to Ghana – 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.
Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup after a 1-1 draw with Ghana at home. Thomas Partey had put Ghana in front early in the first half before Troost Ekong converted a penalty to keep the game levelled. However, the Super Eagles couldn’t find the crucial second goal, breaking the heart of millions of Nigerian football fans.

The first leg game in Ghana had ended in a goalless draw leaving the Ghanaians to qualify on the away goal rules. Defeat was a massive blow for many Nigerians. We lost the Jollof Derby. In fact after Nigeria’s failure to qualify for the world cup, fans stormed the pitch and began destroying properties. Even though the defeat was really painful, the fans went too far on that day.

Number Two – Nigeria Loss to Tunisia – 1978 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers
Till date, many football-loving Nigerians are yet to forget what happened on the 12th of November 1977 during the World Cup qualifier between the then Green Eagles of Nigeria and Tunisia at the National Stadium in Lagos.

Even though I was not born then, I have heard the stories. The first leg had ended in a goalless draw in Tunis and all the Eagles needed was any margin of victory. However the game was settled in Tunisia’s favour who won 1 goal to nil courtesy of an own goal from Godwin Odiye in the 61st minute. It was a misjudged header and it ended Nigeria’s race to Argentina 1978 FIFA World Cup.

The match was watched by over 80,000 Nigerians. The team was devasted and the fans could not believe it. This would have been our first world cup qualification if things had turned out differently. The sad part is that we lost at home in Lagos to Tunisia via an own goal. For many years after this, anyone who scored an own goal was called an Odiye.

Before I get to number one, here are some honorable mentions.
Nigeria’s Loss to Angola, 2006 world cup qualifiers, Nigeria Loss to Greece at the 2010 FIFA world cup. Nigeria Vs South Korea 2010 world cup, Nigeria failure to qualify for the 2012 and 2015 African Cup of Nations after failing to defeat Guinea and South Africa Respectively, These defeats were really painful. And no, the myth of Nigeria vs India – 99 – 1 isn’t on this list.

Number One – Nigeria Loss to Cameroon – 2000 AFCON FINALS
This loss was really painful. Cameroon had beaten Nigeria in the African Nations Cup finals of 1984 and 1988 and Nigeria was determined to lift the trophy this time around on home soil. However, Cameroon started strong, scoring two goals in about 30 minutes in the first half.

Chukwu Ndukwe then scored a much needed goal for Nigeria just before half-time. Then Jay-Jay Okocha marked his return to the team after a one-match suspension with a stunning long range shot to make it 2-2 within 90 seconds of Chukwu’s goal. Nigeria, unbeaten at home for 19 years and defending an 11-match unbeaten run in the tournament, took the game to Cameroon in extra-time. Then came penalty shootouts, Cameroon won 4-3 on penalties. However, the win was controversial after Victor Ikpeba’s fourth penalty for Nigeria was not awarded by the referee despite appearing to cross the line after hitting the underside of the crossbar. And that was how Cameroon lifted the trophy in Lagos yet again defeating Nigeria in the finals of the AFCON.

This loss was so painful, I remember watching this match live as a very young boy and I clearly remember the fans bitter, complaining about the loss. Though these defeats might bring back sad memories, however, we are to learn from them not feel bad about it. Failure to learn from our defeats is actually the sad thing.

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