Nigeria FIFA World Cup 2014 Guide
Nigeria head to Brazil as African champions and they will hope to improve on their last two World Cup showings, when they were eliminated in the first round.
The signs since their Cup of Nations triumph in early 2013 have, however, done little to suggest that the Super Eagles are building upon their unforgettable tournament victory.
They made heavy work of a straightforward opening CAF Qualifying group and gave an impotent showing at the Confederations Cup. Their performances in Brazil last summer exposed how much the team rely on Emmanuel Emenike and Victor Moses to give them a cutting edge in attack. Without them, Keshi’s troops are severely weakened.
Moses’s dire season at Liverpool therefore comes as a concern, while other first-team regulars such as Elderson Echiejile and the talismanic John Obi Mikel have also been limited to largely substitute roles.
Positivity is provided by Vincent Enyeama in goal—the stopper has long been considered among the continent’s finest and his outstanding season in France (where he came within minutes of breaking Gaetan Huard’s long-standing clean-sheet record) bodes well for the summer.
Centre-back pairing Godfrey Oboabona and Kenneth Omeruo remain inexperienced, but have acquitted themselves well when playing against fine strikers such as Didier Drogba and Mario Balotelli.
Ogenyi Onazi is a fine young defensive midfielder who prefers a well-timed interception and quick transitions to a crunching tackle, while Ahmed Musa, accepting the rough edges, is a forward of considerable talent.
There are certainly causes for optimism, but this one could go either way…
Road to the Finals
The Super Eagles emerged from a fairly straightforward group containing Kenya, Malawi and Namibia to progress to the play-offs. Keshi’s side made heavy work of their unheralded opponents though and five of their seven goals scored came in the last 10 minutes of matches.
They managed to overcome the double onslaught of atmosphere and altitude in Addis Ababa against Ethiopia in the play-off first leg to secure a 2-1 victory, before sealing the deal in the return match in Calabar.
You can find Bleacher Report's Player-by-Player World Cup Guide here: Nigeria World Cup 2014 Squad
Provisional Nigeria squad:
Goalkeepers: Vincent Enyeama (Lille FC, France); Austin Ejide (Hapoel Be'er Sheva, Israel), Daniel Akpeyi (Warri Wolves), Chigozie Agbim (Gombe United)
Defenders: Elderson Echiejile (AS Monaco, France); Efe Ambrose (Celtic, Scotland); Godfrey Oboabona (Rizespor, Turkey); Azubuike Egwuekwe (Warri Wolves); Kenneth Omeruo (Middlesbrough, England); Juwon Oshaniwa (Ashdod FC, Israel); Joseph Yobo (Norwich City, England); Kunle Odunlami (Sunshine Stars).
Midfielders: John Mikel Obi (Chelsea, England); Ramon Azeez (Almeria FC, Spain); Ogenyi Onazi (SS Lazio, Italy); Joel Obi (Parma, Italy); Nnamdi Oduamadi (Varese, Italy); Ejike Uzoenyi (Enugu Rangers), Nosa Igiebor (Real Betis, Spain), Sunday Mba (CA Bastia, France), Reuben Gabriel (Waasland-Beveren, Belgium), Michael Babatunde (Volyn Lutsk, Ukraine).
Forwards : Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow, Russia); Shola Ameobi (Newcastle United, England); Emmanuel Emenike (Fenerbahce, Turkey); Obinna Nsofor (Chievo Verona, Italy); Peter Odemwingie (Stoke City, England), Michael Uchebo (Cercle Brugge, Belgium); Victor Moses (Liverpool, England), Uche Nwofor (Heerenveen, Holland).
A former national-team hero in his playing days, the “Big Boss” Stephen Keshi is popular among fans for having returned the Super Eagles to their perceived rightful place as the champions of Africa.
Having won the Cup of Nations during a fine playing career with the national side—he earned 64 caps for the Super Eagles—he became only the second man to win the tournament as both a player and a manager in 2013.
Despite his success, Keshi has troubled relationships with both the Nigeria Football Federation and some of his high-profile players. His tactical approach has rightly been praised, but the presence in the squad of potential troublemakers Joseph Yobo and Peter Odemwingie opens the door to conflict and upheaval down the road.
A lumbering defensive midfielder with Chelsea (when he’s not stuck on the bench), John Obi Mikel is a man transformed when he plays with the national side.
He is the Super Eagles’ emotional heartbeat and drives the team forward from the middle of the park both through his leadership skills and his creative vision.
Nigerian fans will be hoping that Mikel isn’t rusty after extended periods on the sidelines at club level this season.
One to Watch
Ogenyi Onazi starred at the Cup of Nations and has been developing nicely at SS Lazio, attracting the attention of Merseyside pair Everton and Liverpool in the process. The World Cup should mean that a wider audience are introduced to Onazi’s industry and intuitive defensive play in midfield.
If his fitness allows him to make the final 23, however, Joel Obi (pictured) might be the genuine “One to Watch.”
The prodigious talent struggled to discover and settle in his best position at Internazionale, but in the context of a tournament he offers Keshi a versatile, energetic and creative option in the heart of the midfield or in wider areas.
World Cup Record
1994 – Last 16 P4 W2 D0 L2 GF7 GA4
Star Man: Rashidi Yekini [pictured]—The powerful forward scored Nigeria’s first-ever World Cup goal, in the 3-0 demolition of Bulgaria, and he celebrated by trying to tear apart the goal net.
1998 – Last 16 P4 W2 D0 L2 GF6 GA9
Star Man: Sunday Oliseh—The powerful defensive midfielder scored a late winner, a beautiful thunderbolt, as Nigeria beat much-fancied Spain 3-2 in a group-stage thriller.
2002 – Group Stage P3 W0 D1 L2 GF1 GA3
Star Man: Jay-Jay Okocha—The mercurial playmaker captained the side and provided some brief moments of magic amidst an otherwise disappointing tournament.
2010 – Group Stage P3 W0 D1 L2 GF3 GA5
Star Man: Vincent Enyeama—The current Super Eagles No. 1 delivered an absolute goalkeeping masterclass to persistently thwart Lionel Messi and others in Nigeria’s opening game against Argentina.
Monday 16 June, 4 p.m. local time, Arena da Baixada, Curitiba vs. IRAN
Saturday 21 June, 6 p.m. local time, Arena Pantanel, Cuiaba vs. BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA
Wednesday 25 June, 1 p.m. local time, Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre vs. ARGENTINA