What is Nigeria’s record in AFCON finals? Super Eagles success and failure through history

Nigeria are taking on hosts Ivory Coast in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations on Sunday, 11 February, as the curtain falls on an exciting 34th edition of the continental finals.

Sunday's match at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium will pit two teams against each other in contrasting form.

Nigeria started AFCON 2024 slowly but ultimately got better as the competition went on, and after several of the pre-tournament favourites were sent home early, the Super Eagles were the favourites by the time the quarter-finals started.

Ivory Coast, meanwhile, qualified for the last 16 as one of the lucky third-place teams but has since got the grit between its teeth and are looking rejuvenated.

Ivory Coast vs Nigeria
Credit: Icon Sport

Nigeria with unique AFCON final record

Interestingly, the teams had met in the group stage – with the Super Eagles winning 1-0 – and it will be the fourth time that Nigeria will face a team they met at the group stage, in the final.

Back in 1988, Nigeria had drawn 1-1 with Cameroon in Group B of the competition hosted by Morocco and then went on to play the same team in the final. 

Two years later, in Algeria, Nigeria played against the hosts and then played the same team in the final.

The third instance was in South Africa back in 2013 when Nigeria played against Burkina Faso in the group stage before beating the same team in the final.

Nigeria are gunning for a fourth title and Ivory Coast are chasing their third, with a chance to avenge their earlier defeat.

As anticipation continues to grow for this memorable battle between the two African giants, Afrik-foot takes a look at Nigeria's previous participation in the AFCON final

Two decades of bittersweet Super Eagles moments

The team had waited 27 years before playing in an AFCON final. The eight-team event in 1980 had seen Nigeria go past the likes of Ivory Coast in the group stage before beating Morocco in the semi-finals and then playing against Algeria in the final.

Despite the seeming pressure going into the final, it became a one-sided game as the 3-0 scoreline reflected and Segun Odegbami emerged as the tournament's top scorer. 

Then the heartbreaks began in the other finals when bogey team Cameroon came onto the scene.

Abidjan hosted the final match between Nigeria and Cameroon at the 1984 edition; it was the first time both sides met in an AFCON tournament. Muda Lawal had given Nigeria the lead, but a comeback from Cameroon saw them run out as 3-1 winners. 

Four years later in Morocco, Nigeria lost in another final to Cameroon. This time around, there'd been some drama. Mauritanian referee Sarr had ruled out Henry Nwosu's goal, which appeared to have been a legitimate one when his header went past goalkeeper Joseph Antoine-Bell, and the Indomitable Lions went on to win 1-0.

A second Nigeria success in AFCON final

The 1994 edition hosted by Tunisia saw Nigeria claim their second African crown when they defeated Zambia 2-1 in the final, with Emmanuel Amuneke scoring a brace.

It came as a success after some heartbreaks, and it was a good year and, by extension, a good period for Nigerian football.

The team also went on to put in a decent performance at the World Cup and made it to the knockout rounds on their debut on the world stage later that year. 

Rashidi Yekini Super Eagles
Photo by Icon Sport

Another long wait for a Super Eagles AFCON

Following the success of the team in 1994 and the Olympics in 1996, Nigeria failed to participate in the next two editions hosted in South Africa (1996) and Burkina Faso (1998) due to what could be described as being punished for government interference in the leadup the 1996 edition.

By the time the team returned for the 2000 edition, most of the ‘Golden Boys' from the mid-1990s were already past their prime.

Again, the 2000 final was against the bogey team from the 1980s, Cameroon – this time on home soil.

Nigeria fought back in the game from two goals down to send it into extra time after the Indomitable Lions had raced into a two-goal lead with goals from Samuel Eto'o and Patrick Mboma.

Despite showing immense resolve by taking the game to penalties, the Super Eagles saw their wings plucked as Kanu Nwankwo missed his penalty kick, and Victor Ikpeba saw his kick come off the crossbar, although replay showed it crossed the line, but it was too late.

Nigeria Super Eagles
Photo by Icon Sport

Nigeria claim AFCON crown a third time

Thirteen years after inside the FNB stadium in South Africa, Nigeria were back in the final against Burkina Faso.

The team was coached by former captain Stephen Keshi – who won the tournament as a player in 1994 – and they successfully defeated Burkina Faso 1-0 with the only goal scored by Sunday Mba.

The coach became only the second individual to lift the trophy both as a player and a manager. 

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Rotimi Akindele

Rotimi Akindele is a Sports Journalist with almost two decades' experience. He is a TV and radio host, commentator and writer who has covered major sporting events across the globe. Akindele's sports content has been listened to and read by a global audience. He is a well-known figure within Nigeria and the African football scene.