Super Eagles rivals: Delving into Nigeria’s fiercest rivalries

Super Eagles rivals: Delving into Nigeria’s fiercest rivalries
Credit @FansTribeHQ X

Football in Nigeria is more than just a sport; it is a source of national pride, a unifying force, and a passion that stirs deep emotions across the country.

The Super Eagles, Nigeria's national football team, have a storied history filled with triumphs, legendary players, and unforgettable matches.

Among these narratives, the fierce rivalries with other top African teams stand out, adding drama and excitement to the beautiful game.

These rivalries, steeped in history and competitive spirit, showcase the intensity and passion of African football.

From the historic “Jollof Derby” against Ghana to the epic battles with Cameroon, each rivalry tells a story.

The rivalries with teams like South Africa, Egypt, and Ivory Coast have produced some of the most memorable moments in African football, while encounters with Algeria, Senegal, and Tunisia have highlighted the strategic and competitive nature of the sport on the continent.

Let's delve into the details of the Super Eagles rivals.

Super Eagles rivals: Exploring Nigeria's fiercest football rivalries

Super Eagles have several notable football rivals, primarily within Africa. These rivalries are often marked by competitive and highly anticipated matches. Here are some of Super Eagles rivals:

Super Eagles vs. Ghana

Super Eagles rivals
Credit: Icon Sport

The West African derby between Nigeria and Ghana is arguably the oldest and most intense rivalry.

This storied conflict began in earnest with a devastating 7-0 defeat for Nigeria at the hands of Ghana (then the Gold Coast) in 1955.

This early humiliation set the stage for a rivalry that would grow increasingly fierce over the decades.

In their first four encounters, Nigeria failed to score a single goal while conceding ten, illustrating the early dominance of Ghana, Super Eagles' rivals.

Matches between Nigeria and Ghana, even those labeled as friendlies, are anything but friendly.

A prime example is the 2007 friendly in London, where Ghana handed Nigeria their first defeat in 15 years and celebrated the victory with unparalleled fervor.

Another notable encounter was the 3-0 defeat of Nigeria by Ghana in Benin during the 2001 Korea/Japan World Cup qualifiers.

Ghana also dashed Nigeria's hopes in the Africa Cup of Nations in 2008 and 2010, winning the quarterfinal and semifinal clashes, respectively.

Particularly painful for Nigeria was the 2010 loss, where Ghana triumphed despite being reduced to ten men.

In recent years, Ghana has maintained the upper hand, remaining unbeaten by Nigeria since 2006.

Head-to-Head record

  • Nigeria Wins: 10
  • Ghana Wins: 21
  • Draws: 18

Super Eagles vs. Cameroon 

Green Eagles to Super Eagles
Credit @AllezLesLions X

When it comes to football rivalries on the African continent, few are as intense or storied as the rivalry between Nigeria and Cameroon.

This fierce competition has produced some of the most memorable and emotionally charged matches in African football history.

The depth of this rivalry was poignantly displayed in 2019 when Samuel Eto’o, one of Cameroon’s football legends, was visibly heartbroken after Nigeria ousted Cameroon from the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.

The rivalry officially ignited in the final of the 1984 Africa Cup of Nations, where Cameroon triumphed over Nigeria with a decisive 3-1 victory.

This loss marked the beginning of a competitive and often bitter football relationship.

Four years later, in the 1988 AFCON final, Nigeria sought revenge but fell to the Super Eagles rivals once more under controversial circumstances.

These back-to-back final defeats solidified Cameroon as a formidable adversary.

Though Nigeria has generally maintained a better overall head-to-head record, Cameroon has consistently managed to secure victories in the most crucial encounters.

This trend continued in the 2000 AFCON final, co-hosted by Nigeria and Ghana.

Once again, in a match fraught with controversy, Cameroon emerged victorious, marking the third time they had defeated Nigeria in an AFCON final.

Remarkably, three of Cameroon’s five AFCON titles were won by overcoming Nigeria in the final.

Head-to-Head record

  • Nigeria Wins: 12
  • Cameroon Wins: 4
  • Draws: 7

Super Eagles vs. South Africa

Ahmed Musa of Nigeria challenged by Percy Tau of South Africa during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Finals, quarterfinals match between Nigeria and South Africa at Cairo International Stadium
Credit: Icon Sport

The rivalry between Nigeria and South Africa is a relatively recent.

This rivalry began to take shape in the late 1990s, a period marked by Nigeria's political turmoil, which led to the Super Eagles' absence from the 1996 and 1998 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournaments.

During these absences, South Africa had remarkable performances, winning the 1996 AFCON.

Many Nigerians believed that their absence was the only reason South Africa triumphed, given Nigeria’s formidable squad at the time—one that won the Olympic gold in 1996 and performed admirably at the 1998 World Cup in France.

The opportunity to settle the argument on the field finally came in the 2000 AFCON semi-final, where Nigeria’s Tijani Babangida scored twice to secure a decisive victory.

Following this, Nigeria enjoyed a period of dominance over South Africa, leading to a decrease in the perceived rivalry.

However, the tides began to turn with the resurgence of South African football in recent years.

Notably, South Africa, the Super Eagles rivals, went unbeaten against Nigeria in five consecutive encounters, including a victory on Nigerian soil and a critical match that prevented Nigeria from qualifying for the 2015 AFCON.

This resurgence not only boosted South African confidence but also reignited the rivalry, making recent matches between the two teams highly anticipated.

Head-to-Head record

  • Nigeria Wins: 7
  • South Africa Wins: 2
  • Draws: 5

Super Eagles rivals: Notable mentions

Nigeria vs. Ivory Coast 

Nigeria Super Eagles
Credit: Icon Sport

Encounters with Ivory Coast are notable for the high level of skill and competitiveness displayed by both sides.

As dominant forces in African football, Nigeria and Ivory Coast consistently produce thrilling and tightly contested matches that are eagerly anticipated by fans.

Their clashes often feature top-tier talent and have significant implications in major tournaments. Like recently in the AFCON 2022 final where the Super Eagles rivals clinched the trophy.

Super Eagles vs. Senegal 

Senegal legend Sadio Mane
Credit: Iconsport

Though not as historic as some other rivalries, the competitive edge between Nigeria and Senegal has sharpened in recent Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournaments.

This developing rivalry is marked by high-stakes matches that often influence the outcome of the tournaments.

The rising stature of Senegalese football and the consistent strength of the Nigerian team ensure that their encounters are fiercely competitive and eagerly watched.

Super Eagles vs. Argentina

Players in action during Nigeria vs Argentina
Credit: Icon Sport

Although Argentines might laugh at being classified as a football rival to Nigeria, the Super Eagles have a significant axe to grind with La Albiceleste.

Argentina has defeated Nigeria in all five of their World Cup meetings, often by narrow margins, which has left a lasting sting.

Except for the 2002 World Cup clash where Argentina dominated, Nigeria has been narrowly edged out in the other encounters, intensifying the sense of unfinished business.

While Argentina's traditional rivals are Brazil, Germany, and England, Nigeria still views these encounters with a desire for redemption, making every match between them a point of intense national interest.

This article was most recently revised and updated 4 weeks ago

Rababe Koussaimi, a 22-year-old journalist, is deeply passionate about the world of sports. She grew up in a footballing environment, supporting both Bayern Munich and Wydad Athletic Club. She began her English journalism career by hosting a podcast for the first English radio station in Morocco. Currently, the Moroccan journalist channels her enthusiasm into writing and conducting extensive research, creating insightful and engaging content for GoalBall Live readers.