The Super Eagles were held 2-2 by the Bafana Bafana of South Africa at the new Akwa Ibom International Stadium in Uyo, meaning they finished outside of their group’s top two automatic qualification spots with eight points – a total that also put them out of the running to be the best third-placed team.
Nigerians will particularly rue the many chances Ahmed Musa missed in the opening stages of the match.
South Africa had already assured their place at the tournament, which will be played from 17 January to 8 February, and only one spot is still outstanding.
Congo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea and Mali all claimed their tickets to the continent’s showpiece event with their results on Wednesday.
Nigeria went into the game against South Africa with its fate in its own hands – win and it would claim second spot in the table and a place in the finals alongside group winner South Africa.
But the Super Eagles blew their chance to prevent a troubled campaign from turning disastrous, even though they fought back from two goals down to finish with a draw.
The writing was on the wall for Stephen Keshi’s side, who have been plagued by both on and off the pitch problems, when Tokelo Rantie scored a goal either side of half-time to put the visitors firmly in control.
Sone Aluko pulled a goal back on 68 minutes and Nigerian hopes were raised further when South Africa’s Renielwe Letsholonyane was sent off.
Aluko levelled the scores in added time but it was too late for the home side who broke the heart of millions of fans including host Governor Godswill Akpabio who sat alone dejected in the stadium’s VIP box.
Questions will now be asked about the future of Keshi who was recalled to his job by President Goodluck Jonathan two weeks after he was sacked by the Nigeria Football Federation.