After a first Cup of Nations victory in 19 years, and with ‘Big Boss’ Stephen Keshi committing his immediate future to the Super Eagles, confidence is high in Nigeria. Currently leading a World Cup Qualifying group containing Kenya, Malawi and Namibia—the national side look well placed to return to the World Cup, in what would be their 5th appearance at the international stage.
Bleacher Report’s African Expert Ed Dove takes a look into the future, envisaging Nigeria’s starting lineup in the ferverous atmosphere of the Maracana as they emerge to claim history as the first Sub-Saharan side to play a World Cup match on South American soil.
Let your dreams carry you to Rio, and imagine these eleven heroes taking to the field for the African champions.
Suggestions before the Cup of Nations that his time as Nigeria’s Number One proved wide of the mark as Enyeama emerged as one of the continent’s finest stoppers during the Afcon. Marshalling the youngsters ahead of him, he barely put a foot wrong, delivering solid and reassuring displays. His late stop from Wilfried Sanou in the final broke Burkinabé hearts once and for all, and seemed to confirm that 2013 was to be Nigeria’s year.
Doubts do remain about his club future, however, where a move to Lille in 2011 is still yet to bear fruit. Looks likely to be between the sticks in his prime in 2014.
Imagine Roman Abramovich’s delight when he learned that one of the Cup of Nations’ finest defenders just happened to be on Chelsea’s books. No need for another gargantuan outlay when quality of such calibre lies within your ranks.
Omeruo may still only be 19, and a place in the Chelsea first XI still seems a mile off, but he was one of the revelations of the Afcon, and rarely evidenced his slender years. He played every minute of Nigeria’s triumphant campaign after replacing Ideye Brown in the opener, and looked like he’d been a fixture in the side for years. It was, at times, remarkable to realise that the boy is still only a teenager.
Maligned before the tournament for a supposed lack of pace, he has also faced criticism subsequently after his leggy, lacklustre display seemed to gift Juventus the initiative in their Champions League tie. However, some competent displays for the Super Eagles have seen Ambrose confirmed as one of the rocks in Nigeria’s back line.
Occasionally used at rightback, I would play Ambrose in the heart of the defence, where his size and relative experience could be most effectively utilised.
His Afcon performances may not have garnered the same headlines as some of the other squad members, but the defender has quietly emerged as ‘The Future’ for the Super Eagles defence—the national side look set for years with the Sunshine Stars centreback in the heart of the action.
Despite arguably being at fault for Burkina Faso’s equaliser in Nigeria’s opening game, Oboabona was one of the tournament’s finest defenders. He delivered a masterclass in the quarterfinal where he silenced Didier Drogba and his Ivorian compatriots.
A move to Europe looks likely, and recent form suggests he may well be up to it.
While Braga’s Elderson performed admirably at the Cup of Nations, particularly in scoring a delectable header against Mali in the semifinal thrashing, I am among a clutch of observers who would like to see Taye Taiwo given another (final) chance for the national side.
Like Celestine Babayaro before him, he is threatening to become another Nigerian left back who shone as a youngster only to fade away as complacency replaced promise.
He will be 29 at the World Cup, and I believe that his experience—with Milan, Marseille, QPR, and currently Dynamo Kyiv—as well as his terrific dead-ball skills could add an extra dimension to Naija’s back line.
This Cup of Nations finally demonstrated Mikel’s enormous potential in the international sphere. He has long cut a frustrating figure in the green of Nigeria, with a tendency to slope away from games, as well as a proclivity to go for the flash and the panache rather than the simple and effective.
The Afcon 2013, however, saw him perform as the midfield general Naija fans have long been calling out for—he silenced Yaya Toure in the quarterfinal, demonstrating resiliency and composure, while also weighing in with some delicious passes and offering immense creativity—the kind of which would not have been uncommon for the younger Mikel, but has been absent recently.
Sure to be the figurehead of the national side in Brazil 2014…if they make it!
Several young midfielders could stake a claim to a berth in the starting XI. Despite considering the claims of Nwankwo Obiorah and Fegor Ogude, both of whom featured in South Africa, I have plumped for Lazio’s Ogenyi Onazi.
Having only recently turned 20, I was surprised to see the youngster play such a crucial role in the national team’s triumph, however, clearly he had done enough to earn Keshi’s trust—the Big Boss was not disappointed. An ever-present in the Cup’s latter stages, Onazi dovetailed perfectly with Mikel, demonstrating excellent work rate and a maturity beyond his years.
Could well be one of the brightest prospects to feature in Brazil 2014.
Internazionale midfielder Joel Obi may currently be low down the pecking order for the Super Eagles, but I believe he has the requisite quality to emerge as a key player for the national side between now and Summer 2014.
In fact, the player’s own example may be the evidence to support any optimism he may have; 18 months ago he could have been seen as a guaranteed feature of Stephen Keshi’s Afcon plans. However, injuries and a loss of form saw him concentrate on him rediscovering his talents rather than targeting continental glory with the Super Eagles. Still, offering pace and technique, as well as the versatility to play anywhere across the midfield, and just 21, Obi retains the potential to be a key player in this fresh, youthful Nigeria side.
The Cup of Nations was a true coming-of-age for the young Lagos-born forward. Having impressed intermittently in the Blue of Chelsea since arriving from Wigan Athletic last summer, he burst onto the scene emphatically at the Afcon.
A muted start saw him finally emerge against Ethiopia, where his devastating speed and ambitious running spread panic like wildfire among the Black Lions defence. The penalties he earned (and converted) in that contest saw the Super Eagles progress, and gave Moses the perfect platform to demonstrated his prodigal abilities.
Against the Ivory Coast and Mali he played the parts of inspiration and architect, forging delicious openings for his countrymen through a combination of craft and unstoppable energy.
Now back in West London, he looks like going from strength to strength—the exalted company at Stamford Bridge could well catapult him into the upper echelons of the sport.
Could Brazil 2014 be the stage for Moses to emerge as a premier international star?
The Afcon’s top scorer, the Golden boot award was momentary compensation for missing the final through a cruel injury sustained against Mali. The Spartak Moscow striker made a terrific contribution over the tournament, combining well with fellow striker Ideye Brown to fire the Super Eagles over the finish line.
Goals against Burkina Faso and Zambia in the group stage were crucial to his side’s progression, while his powerful strike against the Ivory Coast gave his young compatriots hope and belief.
Still only 25 himself, Emenike can be considered a veritable veteran among the current crop of Super Eagles; likely to be in his prime in Brazil, his pacey, powerful forward play will make him a handful for any defence.
Despite his late goal against Mali, I have little doubt that Ahmed Musa will feel he could have contributed more to Nigeria’s victorious Afcon campaign.
He started the opening game against Burkina Faso, but after making limited impact, was reduced to featuring as a substitute—his pace capable of creating an opening or stretching tired legs late in games.
I foresee the Jos-born youngster making a much bigger splash at the 2014 World Cup. Still only 20, but with over two years of experience playing across Europe, Musa has both the physical capacity and the technical ability to contribute to the Super Eagles’ effort as a starter. The prospect of he and Moses flanking Emmanuel Emenike in a forward trio could be enough to spread fear into oppositions’ hearts.