A personal experience of AFCON 2000

By: Alajiki Olaoluwa

Let me tell you a story…my story of the last time Nigeria made it all the way to the African Nations Cup final.

It was the year 2000 and I was privileged to be watching my 3rd major tournament in as many years. I started following football in 1998 when I keenly watched the FIFA World Cup in France.

1999 brought by the FIFA World Youth Championship which was hosted by Nigeria and here was the year 2000 bringing yet another major tournament to this young man who while still a novice, was already in love with the beautiful game.

The tournament was co-hosted by Nigeria and Ghana after the original host country, Zimbabwe withdrew.

It was Nigeria’s first AFCON since they won the tournament in 1994 as a diplomatic row with 1996 hosts South Africa saw them miss that tournament resulting in CAF banning them from the 1998 tournament which was hosted by Burkina Faso.

Some players from the golden 1994 Super Eagles squad were still in the squad and new faces like Celestine Babayaro, Nwankwo Kanu, Tijani Babangida and Julius Aghahowa complemented them.

Nigeria was in Group D alongside Tunisia, Morocco and Congo and played their matches at the National Stadium in Lagos. Nigerians were generally optimistic and I was particularly excited as it was my first Nations Cup and my support for the Super Eagles remained as solid as a rock throughout the tournament.

I clearly remember celebrating after Nigeria’s first game against Tunisia. A brace each from J.J Okocha and Victor Ikpeba helped Nigeria to a 4-2 victory. A goalless draw versus Congo in the second group stage game did not dampen the mood and a 2-0 victory against Morocco ensured Nigeria topped the group.

Nigeria‘s quarter final game saw them play against a very good Senegal side that would later be the surprise side at the 2002 FIFA World Cup. A great game saw substitute Julius Aghahowa snatch a late equalizer for Nigeria after Khalilou Fadiga had given Senegal the early lead. That man Aghahowa popped up again in extra time to score Nigeria’s winner.

The semifinal game was a more straightforward game for Nigeria as Babangida’s first half brace secured a 2-0 victory for the Super Eagles over South Africa’s Bafana Bafana.

The final game was to be played between two giants of African football - Nigeria and Cameroon. These two had a history of intense rivalry and this was to be the third time these two teams will meet in the final of the Nations Cup with Cameroon having triumphed in the previous two occasions.

Sitting nervously, I watched as Cameroon got the first goal of the game through Samuel Eto’o. Patrick Mboma then nutmegged Nigeria’s goalkeeper Ike Shoronmu in the 31st minute to make it 2-0 and the Lions lead now looked truly indomitable.

Nigeria however regrouped and a piece of magic from Kanu on the stroke of halftime assisted Raphael Chukwu to score Nigeria’s first goal of the afternoon which I celebrated with a pumped fist. The second half had barely kicked off when J.J Okocha completed Nigeria’s comeback with a great goal from just outside the area. The rest of the game including extra time passed without any goals so that meant that the game had to be decided by the lottery of a penalty shootout.

This is however where my story gets interesting as my mum told me in straight forward terms that I could not watch the penalty shootout because she could not risk me getting a heart attack because of football! Despite my numerous protests, her stance was maintained.

That meant that I did not get to see in real time, Victor Ikpeba’s penalty which crossed the line being ruled out or the Cameroon players celebrating a Nations Cup final treble over Nigeria! I remember that fateful night thirteen years ago as the first time a football game made me shed tears.

On Sunday, Nigeria will face Burkina Faso; her first Nations Cup title decider since my experience in the year 2000. You can be rest assured that if the game should go all the way to a penalty shootout, my mum won’t be able to stop me from watching this time; I’ll be there staring at my television set and supporting the Super Eagles till the very end with even more passion than I did thirteen years ago.
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