Road To South Africa | Nigeria: Will These 'Super Eagles' Fly High?

Eric GomezAnalyst ISeptember 25, 2008

For years, Nigeria has looked like a team on the verge of greatness.

With three FIFA U-17 World Cup Championships under their belt, an Olympic gold medal in 1996 as well as a silver medal in Beijing 2008, Nigerians can definitely boast enormous success in regards to the youngest of their footballers.

Despite their massive achievements in age-limit tournaments, Nigeria have never been able to make the leap to global powerhouse in senior team competition, struggling in World Cups and in their own continent.

Historical figures like Jay-Jay Okocha (the only Nigerian in the FIFA 100 list), Celestine Babayaro, current striker Nwanko Kanu and Wilson Oruma failed to translate success to the senior national team.

Kanu and Oruma were parts of the 1993 U-17 champions who lead Nigeria to three consecutive World Cup appearances from 1994 to 2002, where they were twice eliminated in the group stage.

Since 1976, they've only won the African Cup of Nations twice, and have made the Round of 16 only once in World Cup play, failing to qualify for 2006's tournament in Germany.

Despite all of this heartbreak, Nigerian fans definitely have things to look forward to this time around with the World Cup being held in their own backyard.

The "Super Eagles", as they are nicknamed, are one of the most globalized African nations in regards to player exportation.

For their last game, a World Cup qualifying match against Equatorial Guinea, national team manager Shaibu Amodu selected 18 players who ply their trade in foreign leagues, 17 of them in European leagues.

Among Nigeria's main exports: Chelsea's John Obi Mikel, Everton's Joseph Yobo and Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Portsmouth's Nwankwo Kanu, Inter's Victor Obinna and Newcastle United's Obafemi Martins.

All have been met with success in the European stage, enriching the Eagles with experience in the highest level of play for years now.

Despite their struggles with a long-term coaching solution (three managers have coached Nigeria in 2008), the Super Eagles are qualified for the next round in African qualifying and are currently within the five spots allocated to Africa for the next World Cup.

Decidedly inspired by the exploits of another chronic underachiever, Spain, who won the past European Championship, the Eagles will thus attempt to keep the Jules Rimet trophy in the African continent.

With the World Cup less than two years away, Nigeria will have their best chance—their next chance—to show the world that talent and maturation doesn't peak at 23 for the Nigerian footballer.

Previously in this series:

- Road To South Africa| El Salvador