Best African National Teams of the 2000s: #10

In this series Michael McDuffie ranked the ten best African national teams of the century. Coming in 10th place is…

Nigeria’s team at the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations.

Nigeria’s national team peaked in the decade prior to 2000, as they reached fifth in FIFA’s world rankings in 1994. The Super Eagles topped their World Cup group over favorites Argentina in 1994 and won the year’s AFCON. 

On the heels of their ban from the 1998 edition of the tournament after withdrawing from the 1996 tournament in protest of host South Africa’s apartheid system, the team was ready to make another run for the trophy. This team featured the likes of Jay-Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Celestine Babayaro, and Taribo West.

The joint hosts, alongside neighboring Ghana, topped their group over Tunisia, Congo, and Morocco with two wins and one draw. Two late goals from Julius Aghahowa, including the extra-time winner, saved Nigeria’s run in the quarterfinals, defeating Senegal 2-1.

In the semifinal, two first half goals from Tijani Babangida were enough for a comfortable 2-0 win over South Africa, setting up a final between Nigeria and Cameroon. 

In the final, the hosts found themselves 2-0 down in the first half after goals from Cameroon’s striking duo of Samuel Eto’o and Patrick M’Boma. Needing a comeback, goals from Raphael Chukwu and Okocha brought the Super Eagles level in front of 60,000 fans at the National Stadium in Lagos.

After extra time, the score remained 2-2 and penalties decided the match in dramatic fashion. Cameroon won 4-3 on penalties, taking home the trophy. The result was harsh for Nigeria, as they did not lose a match in regular time or extra time through the entire tournament. Nigeria placed third in two of the three subsequent 2000s editions of the competition but would not reach the final again until 2013.