The new generation will enter the pitch of the Royal Bafokeng Sports Stadium in Rustenburg on Sunday knowing that Nigeria has only ever lost a Cup of Nations quarter final match once before.
The Africa Cup of Nations started as a three-team tournament in 1957 and 1959, entertained four teams in 1962, welcomed six teams in 1963 and 1965 and became an eight-nation finals in 1968, which format it maintained till 1990.
In 1992, the expansion to 12 teams, with four groups of three teams each, meant there would be quarter final matches. Nigeria finished top of Group A in Dakar and defeated Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) 1-0 in the quarter finals, courtesy a goal by Rashidi Yekini.
Two years later, it was the same 12-team format, and the same Zaire in the quarter finals, and the same Rashidi Yekini to score both goals in a 2-0 win in Tunis. The Cup of Nations became a 16-team finals in 1996 in South Africa, but Nigeria was absent for political reasons and was therefore barred from the 1998 finals in Burkina Faso.
In 2000, as co-host with Ghana, Nigeria finished top of her group in Lagos and then sweated hard to defeat Senegal 2-1 in extra time in the last eight, both goals by Julius Aghahowa.
In 2002, the Eagles pipped Ghana’s Black Stars 1-0 with a goal by midfielder Garba Lawal in Bamako.
Two years later, Jay-Jay Okocha and John Utaka scored as the Eagles prevailed 2-1 over Cup holders Cameroon in Monastir. In 2006, Cup holders Tunisia was to fall 6-5 after penalty shoot-out following a 1-1 draw in Port Said. Obinna Nsofor scored for Nigeria before Karim Hagui equalised.
In 2010, Nigeria edged Zambia 7-6 on penalties after both teams tied 0-0 in a breathless game in Lubango. It was only in 2008 that Nigeria lost in the quarter finals, when Yakubu Aiyegbeni’s early goal from the spot was cancelled out by strikes from Michael Essien and Junior Agogo in Accra.