1980: First Time Nigeria won  African Cup of Nations


The origin of the African Cup of Nations dated back to June 1956, when the creation of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) was proposed during the third FIFA Congress in Lisbon, Portugal. There were immediate plans for a continental tournament to be held and in February 1957, the first African Cup of Nations took place in Khartoum, Sudan. There were no qualifiers for this tournament and teams that participated were made up of the four founding nations of CAF (Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa). South Africa’s insistence on not including blacks in their national team due to that nation’s apartheid policy then led to their disqualification.

Egypt was crowned as the first continental champions after defeating hosts Sudan in the semi-final and Ethiopia in the final. Two years later, Egypt hosted the second edition in Cairo with the participation of these same three teams. Egypt won by beating Sudan 2-1. The number of participating nations was increased to nine in the third edition of the competition in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1962 and in that year, for the first time, there were qualifiers to determine which four teams would play for the title.

The 1980 African Cup of Nations was the 12th edition and was hosted by Nigeria.  The expectations of the football-loving Nigerians were high. The Nigerian football governing body left no stone unturned in the preparation for the highest football tournament in the continent. The year marked what could be regarded as the re-birth of Nigerian football.

Regrettably, the dark years of the civil war kept Nigerian football in the doldrums, but the victory recorded by the Green Eagles at the 1980 edition of the African Nations Cup opened another vista in the history of Nigerian football. It was the first time Nigeria would win the cup in the history of the tournament. She won with a backline that was mostly made up of defenders that could be classified as giants.

The Green Eagles of 1980 was all about the local league players. Most countries’ teams were made up of predominantly players who plied their trade in their local leagues. The team, under Brazillian coach, Otto Gloria and the captainship of Christian ‘Chairman’ Chukwu, was made up of the following players:

Goal Keepers: Best Ogedegbe (Shooting Stars), Emmanuel Okala (Enugu Rangers)

Defenders: David Adiele (Bendel Insurance), Okey Isima (Standard of Jos), Christian Chukwu (Enugu Rangers), Tunde Bamidele (Taraba United), Sylvanus Okpala (Enugu Rangers), Kadiri Ikhana (Bendel Insurance).

Midfielders: Muda Lawal (Shooting Stars), Godwin Odiye (San Francisco Dons), Ifeanyi Onyedika (Enugu Rangers), Henry Nwosu (New Nigeria Bank),

Forwarders: Segun Odegbami (Shooting Stars), Aloysius Atuegbu (Enugu Rangers), Felix Owolabi (Shooting Stars), Adokiye Amiesimaka (Enugu Rangers), Martin Eyo (Julius Berger FC), Shefiu Mohammed (Racca Rovers).

Others: Moses Effiong,  John Orlando, Charles Bassey, Frank Onwuachi,

All the human effort and material resources that were put into this biggest fiesta eventually yielded the desired expectation as the Eagles glided at the highest altitude by winning the trophy for the first time since the tournament started in 1957.

The qualifying tournament actually started in December 1978 through November 1979 out of which eight countries emerged as the winning teams to compete for the 1980 tournament with Ghana qualifying as holders while Nigeria qualified as hosts. The other six countries were: Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Tanzania. The eight countries were divided into two groups and just like in 1978, the field of eight teams was split into two groups of four. Below are the scores of the preliminary, first and second rounds which led to the qualification of the eight countries for the quarter, semi and final tournaments.

Preliminary Round

Benin          w/o Niger

3-12-78:Madagascar 2   Malawi 1

17-12-78: Malawi 5          Madagascar 1

12- 8-79:Mauritius 0        Lesotho 1

26- 8-79:Lesotho 1           Mauritius 2


First Round

Algeria        w/o Burundi

16- 9-79: Benin 1              Ivory Coast 0

30- 9-79: Ivory Coast 4 Benin 1

16- 9-79: Congo 4             Zaire 2

30- 9-79: Zaire 4                Congo 1


Egypt          w/o Somalia

16- 9-79: Guinea 3            Cameroon 0

30- 9-79: Cameroon 3     Guinea 0

[Guinea advanced on penalties]


Kenya  w/o Tunisia

16- 9-79: Libya 2                                Ethiopia 1

30- 9-79: Ethiopia 1         Libya 1


15- 4-79: Malawi 0           Zambia 2

29- 4-79: Zambia 2           Malawi 0

16- 9-79: Mauritania 2    Morocco 2

30- 9-79: Morocco        4-1 Mauritania


16- 9-79: Mauritius 3       Tanzania 2

30- 9-79: Tanzania 4        Mauritius 0


Sudan  w/o Uganda

16- 9-79: Togo 2                Gambia 0

30- 9-79: Gambia 1           Togo 0


Second Round

24-10-79: Algeria 3  Libya 1

6-11-79: Libya 1                Algeria 0

[Algeria qualify]


24-10-79: Kenya 3            Egypt 1

6-11-79: Egypt 3                Kenya 0

[Egypt qualify]

28-10-79 Morocco 7         Togo   0

11-11-79 Togo 2                                Morocco 1

[Morocco qualify]

28-10-79 Sudan 2              Ivory Coast 0

11-11-79: Ivory Coast 4  Sudan 0

[Ivory Coast qualify]

28-10-79: Tanzania 1       Zambia 0

11-11-79 Zambia 1           Tanzania 1

[Tanzania qualify]

28-10-79 Zaire 3                Guinea 2

11-11-79 Guinea 3            Zaire 1

[Guinea qualify]

Nigeria had not been so lucky in the past tournaments, but it was a sure bet that a happy note would resound at the most populous nation of the continent. It was a sure bet that the Green Eagles would make it because they had been well groomed. The effort of the Green Eagles, which saw them have an extensive training in Brazil, was rewarded as the players wrote their names in gold when the tournament started, because they did not leave anything to chance.

The Green Eagles, through their Captain, ‘Chairman’ Christian Chukwu, had assured Nigerians of their victory, stressing that the players were battle-ready and fit to face the matches at every stage. The Eagles, on the other hand, were assured of the whole nation’s support, when the Local Organising Committee headed by chairman of the Nigerian Football Association, Mr. Sunday Dankaro, paid them a visit at their Trade Fair site camp. Also, a renowned Lagos-based Company, Guthrice (Nigeria) Limited, visited the players in their camp and made a ‘special’ donation of valuable drugs and cash to them. According to the company’s representatives, the gift was as a result of the company’s appreciation of the players’ effort to win the cup.

Meanwhile, the number one fan and President of Nigeria, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, had visited the Eagles in their camp a day before the opening ceremony, to re-assure them of the good wishes of the entire country. In his goodwill chat with them, he said: “The minister and myself and the entire people of this country are behind you. I am used to winning and I am confident we shall win.” He charged them to play with confidence and a determination to win the cup.

The Surulere National Stadium was jam-packed at the opening ceremony which took place on 8 March. Different groups of soccer fans had composed songs with which to cheer the Nigerian players. None of the participating players took part in the march-past. In compliance with an earlier arrangement made, carefully chosen students from eight schools and colleges in the Lagos metropolis carrying the different countries’ colours participated in the march-past.

In the meantime, the eight qualified teams have been divided into two groups under Nigeria, the host country and Ghana, the holder country. Below is the grouping of the teams:


Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Tanzania


Algeria, Morocco, Ghana, Guinea

Also, two centres were mapped out for the game: The National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos and Liberty Stadium, Ibadan. Group A team played at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, while Liberty Stadium was the venue for Group B. In Lagos, the opening match on 8 March was between Green Eagles of Nigeria (the host country) and Taifa Stars of Tanzania and later, Egypt and Ivory Coast. That year’s African Cup of Nations was always billed to be a festival. The Green Eagles were favourites on home soil, more so after spending a couple of months training in Brazil before the finals.

And the Green Eagles showed that element of champions in that opening match, scoring in the very first minute through Mudashiru Lawal (of blessed memory) and then adding two more through Ifeanyi Onyedika and Segun Odegbami. The ‘Taifa Stars’ pulled one back but it was only a consolation as the match ended 3-1 to the uproarious delight of Lagos fans. In Ibadan the following day, the first clash of the match was between the cup holders, The Black Star of Ghana and Algeria and later, Morocco and Guinea on same day.

The Eagles won the opening match 3-1, struggled to a goalless draw with Ivory Coast in their second match and then beat Egypt with a goal in their last group match. For the semi-final, Nigeria qualified as group leader, beating Morocco 1-0. Below are the scores of each country in each of the group, before moving on to semi-final:


Group A (Lagos)

8- 3-80: Nigeria                                3              Tanzania              1

8- 3-80: Egypt                    2              Ivory Coast        1

12- 3-80: Egypt                  2              Tanzania             1

12- 3-80: Nigeria               0              Ivory Coast         0

15- 3-80: Ivory Coast       1              Tanzania              1

15- 3-80: Nigeria               1              Egypt                     0


Group B (Ibadan)

9- 3-80: Ghana                  0              Algeria                 0

9- 3-80: Morocco             1              Guinea                                1

13-3-80:  Algeria               1              Morocco              0

13- 3-80:  Ghana                1              Guinea                                0

16- 3-80: Algeria               3              Guinea                 2

16- 3-80: Morocco            1              Ghana                   0

In Group A, Nigeria and Egypt qualified for the semi finals with the total points of 5 and 4 respectively, while Algeria and Morocco in Group B qualified with 5 and 3 points respectively. The semi finals took place the same day in Lagos and Ibadan on 19 March with the scores below:


19- 3-80: Nigeria               1              Morocco              0


19- 3-80:  Algeria              2              Egypt                     2

Algeria won 4-2 on penalties

With the above scores, Nigeria and Algeria thus qualified for the big final, while Morocco and Egypt struggled for the third place, which fell into Morocco’s hand beating Egypt two goals to nothing.


At last, Nigeria qualified for the final match. After the 1973 victory at the All-African Games, attempts had been made on two different occasions to reach this point, but on each occasion, they had ended in the third position. The first time was the 10th African Cup of Nations that was hosted by Ethiopia in 1976, while the second was in 1978 at the 11th African Cup of Nations in Ghana. There were many factors associated with the poor performance at these last two tournaments. No wonder, adequate preparations were made while all necessary things were put in place to ensure utmost success at this particular tournament. The Organising Committee had left no stone unturned in order to win the ‘Cup of Unity.’ The players had been properly groomed and well taken care of. Everybody was confident that nothing could stop the Eagles to fly to the highest sky at the final match.

The Nigerian team for the final match consisted of Best Ogedegbe (Keeper), David Adiele, Christian Chukwu (Captain), Babatunde Bamidele, Alloysius Atuegbu, Godwin Odiye (substitute: Ikhana Kadiri), Felix Owolabi (Mid-Fielder), Okey Isima (Defender), Segun Odegbami, Muda Lawal, Adokie Amiesiamaka (Forward). The Algerian team, on the other hand, consisted of Mehdi Cerbah, Chaabane Merzekane, Abdelkader Horr, Mohammed Khedis, Mustapha Kouici, Bouzid Mahyouz, Ali Fergani, Lakhdar Belloumi (Guemri), Salah Assad, Tdej Bensaoula (Rabah Madjer), Benmiloudi. Gebreyesus Tesfaye (Ethiopia) was the referee.

There was determination on their faces when they met Algeria on the battle field of the National Stadium, Lagos. Nothing was to be taken for granted. Although the Algerian team was far from being caged, they were highly talented players and in so many ways, demonstrated a high degree of resillience, hardly in disarray. Even under pressure, the Eagles were equal to the task. The nation had faith in the team. They had played well and had reasons to clinch the most glorious place. President Shehu Shagari was again there to cheer them along with over 80,000 fans, football lovers, well meaning Nigerians and well wishers. It was a privilege to find the nation’s number one citizen really involved as a soccer fan. One should not be surprised to see how he was standing up, shouting and cheering his soccer team. Remember, he had gone to their camp to pay them a visit of solidarity  and had predicted that the team would win.

It was a battle to finish and win. And win, they surely did. ‘Mathematical’ Segun Odegbami scored the first goal barely two minutes of the first-half and another goal at the 42nd minute of the same first-half. The Algerians tried their best but these Eagles did not give them any chance as they flew beyond where any shot could reach them.

Segun Odegbami was the brightest of the lot by scoring the first two goals for Nigeria – classical goals they were. Muda Lawal made up for his number of misses in the first half to score the third from close range. It was a most memorable evening for the players, fans and the entire country as a whole.

All the players performed wonderfully well. Individually, each of them realised the mission he owed the country and together, they fought the battle with tenacity and won the ‘war’. For instance, Christian ‘Chairman’ Chukwu, Tunde Bamidele, David Adiele, Patrick Ekeji, Sylvanus ‘Quick Silver’ Okpala, Okey Isima, Godwin Odiye and Kadiri Ikhana intimidated opposing strikers with their height and built. Segun Odegbami and Muda Lawal’s goals saved the country from wasted efforts and resources. The watchful eyes of Best Ogedegbe at the Eagles’ goal post and his magnetic hands would not allow any goal from the opponents into the Nigerian net. The Eagles really cruised.

Nigeria won her first Nations Cup trophy amidst wild cheers from the home fans at the National Stadium Lagos, with President Shehu Shagari as the chief cheerer. The nation, at last, had written her name on the scroll of honour as one of the countries who had won the African Cup of Nations. Nigeria’s victory made her the winner of the brand new ‘Cup of African Unity’ presented to the African Football Confederation (AFC) by the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa. At that tournament, as it had been before and after, it was clearly proven that football is one great source of unity among all the diverse ethnics and class in Nigeria. It was a ‘Cup of Unity’ indeed as all Nigerians united as one and with one voice and one aim to win the cup and bring glory to the country. Every citizen rose with one unanimity of purpose.

There had been expectations from the nation and a very hard preparation had been made. The Green Eagles had gone into the championship with the best in goodwill and support from their fellow countrymen. Captain Chukwu had given a victory promise at the beginning and true to the promise, they had delivered. Millions of Nigerians abandoned their other pleasures to watch and cheer the Eagles for gold.

It was a day full of joy as President Shagari shook hands with each player and presented the cup to the luckiest captain of the time, Christian Chukwu. On Sunday, 24 March, there was a grand reception for the two teams at the Government House, Marina. The cream of sports administrators, journalists and government officials were there to give the players a befitting reception. The President, in his opening remark “said that the victory belonged to the whole of African race. He remarked that this competition has come to a successful end and without any hitch, is a victory for the Black race.”

As a mark of appreciation to the Nigerian players, the President announced that each one had been allocated a three-bedroom house at FESTAC Town in addition to a Peugeot 504 saloon car. All of them would also be given national honours.

One thing was clear the 1980 team was a joy to behold and a colossus on the African continent. It was a complete team. It had players who would want to die rather than lose a game, especially if the tie was within their reach. It did not mean that they did not lose games or occasionally play badly, but the truth was it was an exception, not the rule. Each member of the 23-man team  prepared and committed to winning the Nations Cup. And that was what the 1980 set did and it worked wonders.

The 1980 Eagles’ road to success was made possible due to the personal commitment and team spirit of the squad, officials and players inclusive. Winning the Nations Cup then was the primary goal of everyone on the team. The most important goals recorded for Nigeria were the opening strike by Muda Lawal in the game against Tanzania, Felix Owolabi’s only goal against Morocco in the semi-final and Segun Odegbami’s beautiful effort on the final day when Algeria fell a victim. Emmanuel Okala was the pillar in that squad.

Christian Chukwu led the Nigerian team to the 1980 African Cup of Nations which was won on home soil and he was adjudged the best player of the tournament.

It wasn’t until 14 years later that the Green Eagles won the Cup the second time at the 1994 African Cup of Nations hosted by Tunisia. Stephen Keshi was the team Captain that brought the Cup home then. Again, the Eagles lost the Cup and it took the intervention of the 1994 Captain Stephen Keshi, now the Green Eagles Coach, 19 years later, for them to win the Cup for the 3rd time in the far away South Africa.










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