EAGLES : 2024 JUST LIKE 1984
By Emeka Obasi

In the grand finale of the 1984 African Nations Cup, Nigeria scored first in the first half and ended up as losers. That was exactly what happened on February 11, 2024. William Troost Ekong’s header was not enough to give the Super Eagles glory.

Musa Lawal beat Indomitable Lions goalkeeper, Joseph Antoine Bell, ten minutes into the game, forty years ago.  Rene N’Djeya responded in the 32nd minute before second half goals by Captain Theophile Abega and Ernest Ebongue gave Cameroon a 3-1 advantage.

In 2024, Ekong’s opener was cancelled in the second half and the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire powered on to earn a 2-1 victory that denied Nigeria another gold. The 1984 grand finale was in Abidjan, host of the 2024 final.

Remarkably, both grand finale games were played at a stadium named after incumbent Ivorian leaders. Felix Houphouet – Boigny Stadium was the venue in 1984. Allasane Ouattara Stadium hosted in 2024.

In 1984, Green Eagles finished as runners – up in their group. Group leaders, Algeria, did not advance to the grand finale. In 2024, Guinea Equatorial topped the group, Nigeria placed second. The group winners were kicked out before the final.

Stephen Keshi who captained Nigeria in 1984 was a central defender. Ekong played the same role in 2024. In the 1984 semifinals, Keshi scored from the penalty spot against Egypt during regulation time. Ekong did it against South Africa in 2024.

The 1984 semis against the Pharaohs went into penalty shootout. Ademola Adesina, of Yoruba background, missed for the Eagles. In 2024, Bafana Bafana dragged the semis into penalty kicks. Ola Aina, from the South – West, missed.

In the 1984 edition, the Eagles used two goalkeepers, Peter Rufai and Patrick Okala. In 2024, the Eagles featured Stanley Nwabali and Francis Uzoho. It is interesting that Rufai and Nwabali have Rivers State connections.

Rufai lived in Port Harcourt, as Peter Jaja. An Idimu, Lagos prince, he was born to a Rivers woman. Nwabali, hails from the Egbema part of Rivers State just like former Inspector General of Police, Chief Mike Okiro who once served as Lagos State Police Commissioner.

When Nigeria faced Cameroon in 1984, the first goal was scored by a Yoruba, Muda Lawal.

When the two countries met again in 2024, Ademola Lookman, from the South – West got the opening goal. In 1984, the Eagles had a player with Paul as first name. Forty years later another Paul came. Paul Okoku and Paul Onuachu played youth football in Lagos before rising to the top. The other Paul in 1984 was a surname, Kingsley Paul.

The referees for the duel against Cameroon in 1984 and 2024, respectively, were from North Africa. Ali Bennaceur of Tunisia was in charge at the Felix Houphouet – Boigny Stadium while Morocco’s Redouane Jiyed handled proceedings at the Allasane Ouattara Stadium.

There was the Egyptian touch in 1984 semi finals where Green Eagles beat Pharaohs through penalty kicks. In the 2024 penalty shoot – out with Bafana Bafana, the man at the centre was  Amin Omar of Egypt.

Rigobert Song was Manager when the Indomitable Lions lost to Super Eagles at the Felix Houphouet – Boigny Stadium. Forty years earlier, the Cameroonians were in Cote d’Ivoire with a player, Dagobert Ding, when they confronted Nigeria at the same stadium.

The Ivorians have a similar group stage story. In 1984, they lost two of their matches and one of the victors advanced to the grand finale. Egypt defeated the Elephants 2-1 while Cameroon humbled them 2-0. The Indomitable Lions played in the final against Nigeria.

In 2024, Cote d’Ivoire lost 1-0 to Nigeria in their second group match, after a brilliant 2-0 start against Guinea Bissau. The worst happened in the next match when Guinea Equatorial pounded the hosts 4-0. That disaster which led to the dismissal of French coach, Jean – Louis Gasset became a blessing as the Championships progressed.

Yousouf Fofana, at 17, was the youngest player at the Cote d’Ivoire 1984 African Nations Cup. He later won the trophy, in 1992, in his last attempt. Simon Adingra was voted Young Player of the Tournament in 2024. He won in his very first attempt.

From one Fofana in 1984, the Elephants paraded two more, goalkeeper Yahia Fofana and Seko Fofana in 2024. What one Fofana could not do in 1984, two Fofanas achieved forty years later.

The Green Eagles who played in the 1984 grand finale were all based at home. And they were led by a Nigerian, Adegboye Onigbinde who three away his foreign name, Festus. The coach had no African Nations Cup experience and was not given much chance. The Super Eagles of the 2024 grand finale were all based outside the country. Jose Peseiro wore Nigerian traditional attire to Abidjan, had no African Nations Cup experience and was given little respect before the championships  by Nigerians.