You have to go back 25 years to discover the last time that Nigeria has failed to win her third match at the Africa Cup of Nations. That is just one of the reasons why most Nigerians here feel the Super Eagles have a right to be in the quarter finals of the 29th edition of the competition on-going in South Africa.
At the 1988 championship in Morocco, the Eagles were held to a 0-0 draw by Egypt in their third and final group phase match at the Africa Cup of Nations, but sailed into the semi finals following an earlier 3-0 victory over Kenya and a 1-1 draw with Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions.
This time, the Super Eagles must win their confrontation with the Walya Antelopes of Ethiopia in Rustenburg on Tuesday to be assured of a place in the tournament quarter finals.
The clash between holders Zambia and Burkina Faso, which will determine the other qualifier from Group C, takes place simultaneously, in Nelspruit.
On Sunday, the Eagles arrived in Rustenburg for the win-or-bust encounter and looks forward to better fortune than their 1-1 draws in their earlier clashes with Burkina Faso and Zambia.
In June 2011, the Walya Antelopes made life difficult for the Eagles in a 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier, the Nigerians needing a last-gasp equalizer by skipper Joseph Yobo in a 2-2 draw inside a rocking National Stadium in Addis Ababa.
Tuesday is a different proposition as the Nigerians will unleash their full strength against a side that fell 4-0 to 10-man Burkina Faso at Mbombela on Friday.
At Libya 1982, a young Nigerian team walloped the Ethiopians 3-0 in a group phase match in Benghazi. Current Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi scored one goal in each half in that triumph, and says his charges will seek to repeat that feat in Tuesday’s game at the Royal Bafokeng.
“It is time for action now and this time, it is win or bust. We just have to go in there and do the job the way it should be done – clinically. It has to be win and nothing else,” said Keshi, as his boys left Nelspruit on Sunday morning.
A win against Ethiopia at least guarantees Nigeria a place in the quarter finals, without necessarily leadership of Group C, with that part of the equation to be determined by the result at Mbombela as champions Zambia meet supercharged Burkina Faso.
At the 1990 finals in Algeria, Nigeria beat Cote d’Ivoire 1-0 in her third match of the finals, to seal a place in the semi finals. The Cup of Nations entertained eight finalists then – half of what obtains now.
In 1992 in Senegal, Nigeria piped Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) 1-0 in Dakar in her third match, with the same central African country at the wrong end of a 2-0 bashing by the Eagles in Tunisia in 1994.
In 2000, in her third match of the 22nd finals, the Super Eagles lashed Morocco 2-0 in Lagos and; in 2002 in Mali, piped Liberia 1-0 in Mopti to reach the quarter finals.
In 2004, Eagles edged Benin Republic 2-1 in Sfax, Tunisia and in 2006, defeated Senegal by the same scoreline to qualify for the last eight.
In 2008 in Ghana, the Eagles edged Benin Republic 2-1 in Sekondi to make it to the quarter finals and three years ago, hit Mozambique 3-0 in Lubango, Angola to qualify for the last eight.
Chairman of the NFF Technical Committee, Chris Green, said on Sunday: “We held a meeting with Coach Keshi and his crew on Saturday and we brainstormed on several issues. At the meeting, we reviewed the two matches against Burkina Faso and Zambia and noted the mistakes and the flaws.
“However, the truth is that our team has been at the wrong end of harsh refereeing decisions and this is an issue for concern. We will make this concern known to the organizers in our own way, and we believe there would not be anything like that when we play Ethiopia on Tuesday.”