By Ken Asinobi
The Super Eagles of Nigeria stand on the precipice of breaking new ground if they deliver another outstanding performance against their bitter rivals, South Africa, on Wednesday.
Having secured a spot in the semi-finals with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over The Black Antelopes of Angola on Friday, courtesy of Ademola Lookman’s 41st-minute strike from close range (his third goal of the tournament), the three-time African champions are now poised for a significant milestone.
In contrast, their upcoming opponents had a more arduous journey, clinching a 2-1 penalty shootout victory against Cape Verde’s Blue Sharks after regular and extra time ended in a stalemate on Saturday night.
Should the team led by Jose Peseiro manage to prevent the Bafana Bafana from breaching their defense, it would mark the first time a Super Eagles team has kept five successive clean sheets in an AFCON tournament.
Friday’s 1-0 win catapulted this group of Eagles into elite company, matching a clean sheet record that has endured for 22 years and has only been equaled twice in history until now.
Let’s delve into the annals of history.
* Nigeria’s first continental triumph came on home soil in 1980, and to achieve that feat, the then Green Eagles kept four consecutive clean sheets on their path to glory.
After a 3-1 victory in their opening match, the Eagles played out a goalless draw against Ivory Coast in their second game before securing a semi-final spot with a narrow 1-0 win over Egypt.
Another slim 1-0 victory over Morocco secured the Eagles a place in the final, where they went on to demolish Algeria 3-0 with goals from Segun Odegbami (twice) and Muda Lawal.
* In the 2002 AFCON tournament in Mali, the Super Eagles kicked off their Group A campaign with a 1-0 win against Algeria, thanks to Julius Aghahowa’s first-half strike.
A goalless draw against the hosts, Mali, was followed by another solitary goal from Julius Aghahowa in the second half, securing a 1-0 victory over minnows Liberia in their third group match.
Garba Lawal became a national hero when his 80th-minute effort settled the tie in Nigeria’s favor against arch-rivals Ghana in the quarter-finals. The Eagles then suffered a 2-1 defeat in the semi-finals against Senegal after extra time but ultimately claimed the Bronze medal with a 1-0 win over Mali in the third-place match.
* In the ongoing edition of Africa’s premier football event in Ivory Coast, the Super Eagles have maintained consecutive clean sheets against Ivory Coast (1-0), Guinea-Bissau (1-0), Cameroon (2-0), and Angola (1-0)
Can this current crop of Eagles surpass their predecessors on Wednesday at the Stade de la Paix in Bouake against South Africa.
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