Over the years, critics of Nigeria's performance have increasingly argued that the Super Eagles have done poorly against Africa's top teams while feasting on lower rated African teams. In this piece, we intend to investigate this claim relying on match result data. First, we look at Africa's Top 10 teams in each year since 2006 (i.e. last 10 years) and then calculate Nigeria's performance against those teams in that calendar year. This process enables us to address the following questions: (1) How has Nigeria done annually against Africa's Top 10 in the last decade? (2) Second, we also look at results against African teams that rank outside the Top 10. How has Nigeria done against these lower ranked teams?
To determine Africa's Top 10 teams in the last year we rely on FIFA's ranking data. We were able to locate FIFA rankings for each year since 2006 but from different months of each year. Thus, instead of comparing ranks for June in each year, we simply used any month ranking that we could find in each year of interest (see Table on list of Top 10 Teams). This, obviously, means that we could have missed some teams since the ranking is dynamic, changing monthly. However, we are confident that at least six of the ten teams in each year would have stayed in the Top 10 for a good part of the given year.
To measure performance, we depend on calculating the team's efficiency against its opponents. Efficiency scores are calculated by dividing actual points obtained (3 for a win and 1 for a draw) by the maximum available points (i.e. 3 for each game). Theoretically, a score of 0.33 efficiency is average (a draw in a game or 1 divided by 3). The efficiency scores are provided in the second table tagged "Performance Tables."
Performance Against Top 10 Teams
Surprisingly, Nigeria has not done significantly well against Africa's Top 10 teams in the last decade in spite of becoming African champion team in 2013. Its best results against the top teams came in the 2013 championship year and in 2006. The rest of the years witnessed mediocre results. A particularly poor year came in 2008 when Nigeria failed to win in three games against a Top 10 team. However, one must note that Nigeria rarely played against the Top 10 teams apart from years 2006 and 2013.
Performance Against Non-Top 10 Teams
As is expected, Nigeria overwhelmed teams that were not Top 10 in the last 10 years. The weakest performance against such teams has been in the current year (2015) where the efficiency score is just 0.42. This includes the recent game against Tanzania. Nigeria has won just one of four games against teams outside the Top 10 this year! In previous years, Nigeria has routinely done well against such teams with efficiency scores above 0.60. In 2008, Nigeria won all eight games against teams outside the Top 10.