African football giants Nigeria have won the Total Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) thrice. The 1980 success on home soil was the first and they had to wait for 14 years to clinch their second in Tunisia (1994), and then a further 19 to claim victory in South Africa (2013).
The West Africans have also been losing finalists four times; 1984 (Cote d'Ivoire), 1988 (Morocco) and 1990 (Algeria), but it was the 2000 loss at the AFCON they co-hosted with Ghana that is regarded as the most painful.
“I have mixed feelings about the 2000 AFCON because as the host nation, we did our best to get through to the final but it was very sad the way we lost it,” tournament skipper Sunday Oliseh, who was part of the squad that won the tournament in 1994 told CAFOnline.
“We not only lost the trophy but it was as if something had been taken away from us. We felt sad because it could have been a wonderful gift to the fans on home soil especially since we had invested so much in the tournament,” Oliseh adds on.
Nigeria had to come from a two-goal deficit to force a penalty shoot-out, which they eventually lost against Cameroon’s talent-endowed Indomitable Lions.
Samuel Eto’o and Patrick Mboma gave Cameroon a healthy 2-0 lead to put them in the driver’s seat.
But, Nigeria pulled one back just before the break through Raphael Chukwu before Jay Jay Okocha levelled matters after the interval to send the game into extra time and with no winner, the tie was decided from 12 yards out.
In the resultant penalty shootout, Victor Ikpeba's fourth spot-kick was ruled out by referee Mourad Daami and captain Rigobert Song stepped up to score the decider, Cameroon winning 4-3. It was heartbreak for the home side in front of their fans.
It was more painful for Oliseh as he had invested everything as captain to ensure the Super Eagles soared at home. In the quarter final against Senegal, a sickly Oliseh had to come off the bench to set up a late equalizer as Nigeria went on to win the tie.
“Nothing but the love for my country made me come off the bench against Senegal. I had malaria and was dehydrated at the same time too and I was not even supposed to be on the bench,” Oliseh explains.
Adding; “But Coach Jo Bonfrere insisted I should be on the bench because my presence ‘would boost the team’s spirit’. We were losing some minutes to the end of the match when I was introduced. It was a risk but it was never going to be an option for Nigeria to go out of the competition at that stage.”
Despite the heartache that pierced through their flesh that day, Oliseh admits that the Indomitable Lions squad that had the fearsome striking force of Eto’o and Mboma as well as skipper Song was truly lion-hearted and deserved to be crowned champions of Africa.