Written by Oyediji Oluwaseun
Nigeria’s senior national football team (Super Eagles, know as Green Eagles in 1976) played their debut African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in 1976.
The tournament was hosted by Ethiopia with eight teams. Teams were split into two groups of four for the first round. The final stage was introduced with the top two finishers of each of the first stage groups. The tournament took place from February 29 to March 14, 1976.
Nigeria were drawn in Group B alongside eventual Champions, Morocco, Sudan, and Zaire in the first round.
They kicked off their campaign on March 1, 1976, with a 4-2 win over Zaire. Baba Otu Mohammed scored two goals for Nigeria as well as Sam Ojebode and Thompson Usiyan. Kabasu Babu and Mbungu Ekofa were Zaire’s goal scorers.
On March 4, 1976, Nigeria won their second group game 1-0 against Sudan with Thompson Usiyan scoring the winning goal in the eighth minute. Morocco defeated Nigeria 3-1 in the final group game on March 6, 1976. Ahmed Faras, Abdallah Tazi, and Larbi Chebbak scored for Morocco while Sam Ojebode pulled a goal back for Nigeria in the 81st minute.
Nigeria finished second in Group B with four points from three games, one point behind group leaders, Morocco. It should be noted that at the time, a win equals two points while a draw equals a point.
In the final round, Nigeria were drawn with Morocco and Group A qualifying teams, Guinea and Egypt. Guinea forced Nigeria to a 1-1 draw in their first final round group game on March 9, 1976. Muda Lawal had scored the first goal of the game for Nigeria in the 55th minute before Papa Camara equalised for Guinea in the 88th minute.
Morocco pipped Nigeria 2-1 in the second group game on March 11, 1976. Ahmed Faras and Redouane Guezzar scored for Morocco while Baba Otu Mohammed scored Nigeria’s goal in the 57th minute before they conceded two late goals in the 82nd and 87th minutes respectively.
Nigeria edged Egypt 3-2 on March 14, 1976. Haruna Ilerika scored two goals for Nigeria with Muda Lawal scoring Nigeria’s third goal. Mahmoud El Khatib and Khalil Osama scored for Egypt.
At the end of the final round, Nigeria with three points from three games finished in the third position to win a bronze medal.
Morocco with five points won its first AFCON title while Guinea with four points finished in the second position. Baba Otu Mohammed with three goals was Nigeria’s highest goal scorer at the tournament while two Nigerian players, Haruna Ilerika and Tunde Awesu were named as part of the CAF Team of the tournament.
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