Nigeria vs Cameroon – a history of Super Eagles AFCON heartbreak

The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) has had its fair share of special rivalries and Nigeria vs Cameroon is one of the fixtures that has always gained eyeballs over the years.

The two countries are neighbours and share a border, although Nigeria is an English-speaking country while Cameroon is predominantly French-speaking.

For many Nigerians of this generation, Ghana will always be that rival that they can never get enough of, the one nation they’re most comfortable bantering with and the country with which they share a lot of similarities – from football, music, food (Jollof), movies and even traditions.

Nevertheless, Nigeria vs Cameroon clashes have been some of the most memorable in the respective countries' history.

Cameroon have denied Nigeria three AFCON titles

The fact is, no other nation has inflicted more misery on Nigeria than Cameroon when it comes to the Africa Cup of Nations.

The Super Eagles may not have beaten Ghana since 2006, when they defeated the Black Stars 1-0 in the group stage of the AFCON, and even lost out on a ticket to the Qatar 2022 World Cup to them, but it doesn’t come close to the pain they’ve suffered at the hands of Cameroon in the past.

For context, Nigeria could easily have had six AFCON titles if the Indomitable Lions didn’t exist. In three different tournaments, the Super Eagles battled their way to the final only to lose to their French-speaking neighbours.

As we build up to the upcoming AFCON 2024 Round of 16 game between Nigeria and Cameroon, Afrik-Foot has summarised Nigeria’s most heartbreaking AFCON moments against Cameroon.

Cameroon beat Nigeria in 1984 AFCON final

The upcoming clash between the two teams seems like a reenactment of their clash at the 1984 AFCON, which was also coincidentally hosted in the Ivory Coast.

A star-studded Nigerian team reached the final after manoeuvring their way past a group that contained Ghana, Malawi, and Algeria. They then defeated Egypt on penalties in the semi-final to set up a date with Cameroon in the final.

However, despite scoring the opening goal through Mudashiru Lawal in the 10th minute, the Super Eagles ultimately suffered heartbreak, with their opponents coming from behind to win the game 3-1. Goals from Rene N’Djeya, Theophile Abega and Ernest Ebongue saw the Roger Milla-inspired Indomitable Lions claim the AFCON trophy.

Super Eagles lose again to Cameroon in 1988 AFCON final

Four years after that painful defeat to Cameroon in the final, the two teams faced each other again in the play-off match at AFCON 1988 in Morocco.

Nigeria had earlier faced the Indomitable Lions in the group stage of the tournament, with the game ending 1-1. But they would meet again in the final, where Cameroon triumphed thanks to a 55-minute penalty from Emmanuel Kunde.

It was a rather disappointing end for the Super Eagles, who had gone into the game with revenge on their minds, but Stephen Keshi, Rashidi Yekini and co. just could not get the better of Cameroon in that final despite their best efforts.

Nigeria lose out on AFCON title to Cameroon in 2000

The final of AFCON 2000 is probably the most painful that Nigeria have suffered in their history. The country co-hosted the tournament with Ghana and had a golden generation of players that made them one of the best teams on the continent.

Upon reaching the final, the Super Eagles were pitted against their old nemesis in Cameroon. An epic game of football saw Nigeria draw 2-2 with the Indomitable Lions in front of a partisan home crowd at the Lagos National Stadium.

Samuel Eto’o and Patrick M’Boma had given Cameroon a 2-0 lead after 31 minutes, but the hosts rallied their way back with a spirited performance that saw goals from Raphael Chukwu and Jay-Jay Okocha restoring parity.

When the game headed to penalties, though, Nwankwo Kanu and Victor Ikpeba missed their efforts as Cameroon won the shootout 4-3 to inflict a third final defeat on Nigeria.

Will there be more heartache for Nigeria this time around, or will they be able to exact their revenge against Cameroon? Time will tell, but the clock is ticking…

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Emmanuel Ayamga

Emmanuel Ayamga is an African sports writer, with bylines on DW, Al Jazeera, World Soccer Magazine and These Football Times.