The last time Stephen Keshi came up against Zambia in a competitive match was in the final of the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations.
Even though he was suspended for that game where the Super Eagles triumphed 2-1, the captain he received the trophy in Tunis alongside his assistant Austin Eguavoen.
Nigeria have not tasted victory on the continental stage since. Nineteen years later, the story has changed. Zambia are the defending champions as Nigeria failed to qualify for the last tournament in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Both teams will go up against each in Friday’s second round match of Group C in a most anticipated clash of two great sporting countries in Mbombela. Tickets are sold out already according to officials.
Speaking ahead of the game on Thursday during Nigeria’s press conference, Keshi and defender Joseph Yobo cast their minds nostalgically back.
“1994 was 19 years ago and it is gone, it’s not the same game for tomorrow, it’s not the same generation of players. It’s a different ball game that is going to happen tomorrow,” said Keshi.
“There’s a great deal of respect I have for them, it’s a very good team. Zambia against Nigeria is always an interesting game. We will go out there with all we have.”
Present captain Yobo was only 14 years old when Keshi and the Super Eagles got that famous victory.
“I watched football but it was only when they won the tournament that I can remember because of the whole celebrations in Nigeria. That’s a long time ago now,” said Yobo.
“I played against Zambia when [Keshi] took over in a friendly game before they won the Nations Cup [in 2012]. It was a good game and we won 2-0, but it was a friendly game. They’re defending champions now and it’s going to be a special game.”
Nigeria have only lost once to defending champions in the past, a 3-1 defeat suffered in the hands of Egypt at Angola 2010. In that same tournament they defeated the Chipolopolo via penalties in the quarter finals.
They will be hoping that Friday’s encounter helps them to regain confidence after conceding late to draw with Burkina Faso on Monday.
“The team is okay, we’re back focusing on the game ahead of tomorrow. The atmosphere is good. We’re just waiting for tomorrow to come,” said Keshi.