The history of Nigerian sports in the 20th century and beyond would be incomplete without mentioning the event of March 22nd, 1980.
Without a doubt, the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) is the biggest competition in African football and it will not be out of place to name it the biggest sporting event in Africa. Nigeria was charged with the responsibility of hosting the 12th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations in 1980. The men’s senior football team, known then as the Green Eagles, had not won the tournament prior to hosting it in 1980.
The Green Eagles
Nigeria’s Green Eagles would emerge top of Group A comprising of the Egyptian, Ivorian, and Tanzanian national teams, to qualify for the knockout phase en route making it to the final. A 1-0 semi-final victory over Morocco on March 19, 1980, meant the Eagles had successfully set up their final match against another North African side, Algeria, which had beaten Egypt 4-2 on penalties after finishing 2-2 on normal time to qualify for the final against tournament host, Nigeria.
On March 22, 1980, the Surulere National Stadium, Lagos was full to the brim as 85,000 spectators (mostly the home crowd), including then President Shehu Shagari, came out to witness the final and cheer the likes of Christian Chukwu, Segun Odegbami, Henry Nwosu, and others to victory. With the support received, the Green Eagles did not disappoint the expectations of Nigerian football fans. Two goals from Segun Odegbami (in the 2nd and 42nd minutes of the encounter), popularly among fans as ‘Mathematical Odegbami’ for his tactical awareness, and late Muda Lawal’s goal in the 50th minute of the match was all Nigeria needed to record a 3-0 victory against Algeria in the final.
This victory meant Nigeria had won their first ever AFCON title and the joy shared among Nigerian football fans on the streets of Lagos and other parts of the country was uncontrollable. Henry Nwosu, who was the youngest member of the 1980 squad at the age of 16, recounts the feeling of putting Nigeria on the global map as African champions:
Winning that cup was like winning the World Cup. That was the first major trophy Nigeria [won] and we did it in grand style beating a big team like Algeria 3-0 in the final.
I want to believe that is one of the biggest ever wins recorded in the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations… Remember how the stadium was packed-full on that fateful day with our president, Shehu Shagari, also in the stands. That victory rightly placed Nigeria on the map in world [of] football!Henry Nwosu
Nigeria has gone ahead to win the AFCON twice after 1980, winning the 1994 edition in Tunisia and conquering Africa after a 19-year wait in South Africa for their third AFCON title in 2013.
Featured Images Source: Sports Compass