Nigeria’s Top 5 Football Rivals

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  1. Cameroun

Cameroun is Nigeria’s biggest rival on the African continent. If you doubt, check how sad Samuel Eto’o was the day Nigeria dumped Cameroun out of Egypt 2019. Cameroun takes matches against Nigeria very seriously with their players giving their best. The rivalry started in 1984 when Cameroun beat Nigeria 3-1 in the final of the 1984 Nations Cup. Four years later, in 1988, Nigeria had the opportunity to revenge but fell to Cameroun again in same stage – final – in controversial circumstances. Although Nigeria had upper hands in the meetings between the countries after than period, it was not in final matches. The two countries met again in the most critical stage of the tournament, final, at the 2000 edition hosted by Nigeria and Ghana, and, for the third time, Cameroun still gave the Eagles a bloodied nose in, again, controversial circumstances. This means, 3 out of the 5 times Cameroun has won the Nations Cup, it was at the expense of Nigeria. Although Nigeria has better head to head against Cameroun, Cameroun always got result in very crucial matches. Any game between Nigeria and Cameroun is war.

Head to Head Record

Nigeria wins – 12

Cameroun wins – 4

Draw – 7

2. Ghana

This West African derby is arguably the oldest rivalry in African football. The biggest defeat Nigeria has suffered in its national football team history was against Ghana (then Gold Coast), a 7-0 loss in 1955. That was when the rivalry started. In fact, Nigeria lost all, conceded 10 goals without scoring 1 in their first 4 encounters with Ghana. Although Nigerians take games versus Cameroun more seriously than versus Ghana, Ghana sees Nigeria as its biggest rival. Any match between the two countries is war, especially in the golden age of Nigerian football when footballers take national team assignment very seriously. The economic ties between the two countries, with citizens of each of them living in large number in the other, also fuels the rivalry. There is nothing friendly in any game between Nigeria and Ghana, even if it is called a friendly match. If you doubt that, go and watch the “friendly” game between the two countries in London in 2007, the first defeat Nigeria suffered in the hands of Ghana in 15 years prior to that game, and see how Ghanaians celebrated it. Another notable stunning clash between the countriesise the 3-0 loss by Ghana in Benin in 2001 in the Korea/Japan World Cup qualifiers. Ghana “pepper dem” Nigeria by dumping the Super Eagles out of  Nations Cup in two consecutive editions – 2008 and 2010 – in quarter and semi final respectively, embarrassingly with 10 men in one of the clashes.  Ghana has continued to have the upper hand against Nigeria in recent years, having not lost to Nigeria since 2006.

Although older Nigerians that witnessed the peak of the rivalry could relate more with the Ghana-Nigeria football rivalry, Internet has rekindled the rivalry among younger generation, especially the fans, in recent years, with fans of each country trolling each online.

The fact that Nigeria had gone to World Cup three times before Ghana made its first appearance also “pained” Ghanaians in the 1990s, but they have since been consoled by the fact they now have better world cup record, having gotten to quarter final which Nigeria never got to.

Head to Head Record

Nigeria wins – 10

Ghana wins – 21

Draw – 18

3. South Africa

Nigeria was absent in the 1996 and 1998 Nations Cup tournaments due to political reasons and South Africa has good outing in both tournaments, winning one. Many Nigerians believed that South Africa would not have won that Nations Cup if Nigeria featured given the squad Nigeria had at the time – winning Olympics in 1998 and topping a group that had Spain in France 1998. Not a few people believed Nigeria would have been unstoppable if they featured in those two Nations Cup. South Africans believed such utterances are a disrespect to them, that they would still have won the tournament even if Nigeria was there. The press and the people of both countries began to trade war of words over superiority. Thankfully, both countries met at the semi final of the 2000 Nations Cup and Tijani Babangida’s 2 goals for Nigeria settled the matter. Nigeria subsequently began to have upper hands over South Africa and South Africa went down in Nigeria’s rivalry consciousness, with several defeats. But the resurgence of the South African team in recent years, not losing to Nigeria in 5 encounters and even winning one in Nigeria, even stopping Nigeria from qualifying for AFCON in 2015, boosted their confidence and rekindled the rivalry, which made yesterday’s game a high octane one. Nigeria got the result.

Head to Head Record

Nigeria wins – 7

South Africa wins – 2

Draw – 5

Honourable mentions

4. Argentina

Although Argentines will laugh at being classified as a rival to Nigeria in football, Nigeria has an axe with that team after beating Nigeria in 5 meetings at the World Cup. To make it more painful for Nigeria, one of the wins was extremely convincing. Nigeria lost by a lone goal margin in each of the 5 encounters. Other than the game in Korea/Japan 2002 where the Argies dominated Nigeria from start to finish, even if they were able to score only 1 goal courtesy Gabriel Batistuta,  Argentina have beaten Nigeria unconvincingly in the other encounters. Although Argentina’s traditional rivals are Brazil, Germany and England (in fact will see Nigeria as “customer dada ni”), Nigeria still has a score to settle with that country.

Head to Head Record

Nigeria wins – 2

Argentina wins – 6

Draw – 1

5. England

Nigeria has very long history with England being Nigeria’s colonialists. The fact that the English Premier League is highly followed in Nigeria, and many Nigerian players have played in their league also made England a very familiar country to Nigeria. Add the fact that there are many Nigerians living in the country and there are several footballers of Nigerian origin who have featured for the youth teams and you will understand the football relationship. There is a popular belief among Nigerians that England national team is crappy like Nigeria’s. Many Nigerian soccer fans will swear that the Three Lions are as bad as the Super Eagles and always looking forward for the opportunity to meet. Like Argentina, England does not see Nigeria as a rivalry the way it sees Germany or Argentina, many Nigerian football fans have an axe to grind with that country. Although Nigeria has only played England 3 times, the performance of the Super Eagles at the 1994 friendly between the two countries in Wembley gave Nigeria a lot of confidence.  Many Nigerians are still not convinced England is bettter than Nigeria in football.

Head to Head Record

Nigeria wins – 0

England wins – 2

Draw – 1