How Nigeria’s national team became the Super Eagles

How Nigeria’s national team became the Super Eagles
Photo by Icon Sport

Due to its many achievements, the Super Eagles of Nigeria is a well-known name in African and World football. 

On many occasions, Nigeria's national team has lived up to its soubriquet, the Super Eagles, while it has some other times been a mere aberration of its moniker.

Sometimes, the fans have wondered what is super about the team. Why have they been branded the Super Eagles when they're not the most successful team in Africa?

Nigeria's national team has come from its early heady days when it struggled for identity to the present day, where its name evokes different emotions and passions.

How did the Nigeria's national team become known as the Super Eagles?

Before the Super Eagles, there was a name 

Green Eagles to Super Eagles
Credit @AllezLesLions X

The journey to its present name started on August 21, 1933, when the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) was born.

The team started with no name, as the NFA couldn't even raise a team for an international game. It took the federation 20 years before they could raise a team.

The team with no name played its first game against neighbours Gold Coast (Now Ghana) in 1935 in Accra, where they lost 4-0. Thus, was born the rivalry between Ghana and Nigeria.

NFA discovered talents following the All-Nigeria Governor's Cup in 1949, and they formed the first national team.

The NFA, headed by Captain D.H Hulley, discovered Teslim Balogun, Peter Anieke and skipper Etim Henshaw.

Super Eagles v Indomitable Lions 1988
Photo by Icon Sport

They toured the United Kingdom and played against Marine Cosby, Bishop Auckland, Isthmians League XI, Leytonstone FC, Corinthians League XI, Dulwich Hamlet, South Liverpool, Bromley and Athenian League XI in friendly matches.

Because of the tour, the team was called the UK Tourists

In 1957, the Nigerian side locked horns again with Ghana and fared better, securing a 3-3 draw.

Few people remember that the Nigerian national side wore red jerseys, which led to their first official name change. They became the Red Devils.

Nigeria gained independence in 1960, and so did the national team, who were rechristened. After their baptism, the Red Devils took on the name the Green Eagles.  

The Green Eagles came about because of the green colour on the flag and the Eagle that sits atop the Nigeria coat of arms.

The new name brought a measure of good fortune, as they won several laurels. They took part in their first Olympics in Mexico (1968). The team also won the football event of the All-Africa Games. They also won their first Africa Cup of Nations trophy in 1980.

The Green Eagles continued to soar. They finished second in AFCON 1984 and continued to push for a place at the table of the greats. However, a World Cup ticket continued to elude them.

From Green Eagles to Super Eagles

Super Eagles
Photo by Icon Sport

The Green Eagles failed to impress in AFCON 1982 and did not make it to the 1986 edition, but in 1988, they were ushered into another level.

The Green Eagles were not favourites to win the 1988 AFCON, but they made a big splash. They reached the final, where a 55th-minute Emmanuel Kunde penalty ended their hopes of winning their second AFCON title.

To this day, many Nigerian fans believe the late Cameroonian CAF president Issa Hayatou brought his influence to bear as the Indomitable Lions beat Nigeria in a final for the second time in four years.  

The Green Eagles had Stephen Keshi, Sam Okwaraji, Henry Nwosu, Bright Omokaro, Rashidi Yekini, Peter Rufai and Humphrey Edobor.

Despite the loss, where Henry Nwosu scored a disallowed goal – the team returned to a hero's welcome.

At a reception for the team, the then Vice-President, Augustine Aikhomu, referred to the team as Super. The reference was picked up by the media and celebrated across the nation. Thus, was born the Super Eagles.

The Super Eagles didn't live up to the moniker until 1994 when they won their second AFCON and qualified for the FIFA World Cup for the first time.

There is blood, sweat and tears on the green shirt of the Super Eagles green shirts. Lives have been lost, in defense of its honour, but the jersey has always been worn with pride.

Nigerians still wait for the day the Super Eagles will surpass its 1994 feat, which is currently its highest peak.

This article was most recently revised and updated 3 weeks ago

Chooka Izuegbuna is a Sports Journalist with 20 years of experience in print, TV and Radio. He has worked with some of the top media houses in Nigeria, including NTA Network, Channels TV, TVC, Silverbird TV and MITV. Chooka broke his sports reporting teeth with The Game Football Weekly in 2003 as a cartoonist and reporter. Chooka has a passion for football and has been a fan of Enugu Rangers (over 30 years) and Real Madrid (Since 1996).