World Cup Preview – Nigeria
Best WC Performance: Round of 16 – 1994, 1998, 2014
Current World Ranking – 48
Nigeria have a rich modern history as one of African football’s superpowers. The Super Eagles have qualified for 6 out of 7 World Cups since their famous debut in 1994. They have made the knock out stages on half of those occasions but are yet to overcome the hurdle of the last 16. The trophy cabinet contains 3 African Nation’s Cup titles; their most recent triumph coming in 2013.
A look further back in to time offers an insight in to just how far African football has come in the last few decades. In 1955 Nigeria, still a British colony, lost 7-0 in a fixture against British Togoland. Their biggest win remains a 10-1 triumph over Dahomey (now Benin) from 1959.
Within half a century of these amateur fixtures Nigeria came within 2 minutes of knocking the vintage Italy side of 1994 out of the Word Cup, had it not been for the Divine Ponytail Roberto Baggio. Eventually they lost 2-1 in extra time, but not before they had propelled African football to a new level and status. The likes of Daniel Amokachi and Finidi George will never be forgotten.
Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (Deportivo La Coruna), Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Enyimba), Daniel Akpeyi (Chippa United).
Defenders: William Troost-Ekong, Abdullahi Shehu (both Bursaspor), Tyronne Ebuehi (Benfica), Elderson Echiejile (Cercle Brugge), Bryan Idowu (Amkar Perm), Chidozie Awaziem (Porto), Leon Balogun (Brighton), Kenneth Omeruo (Chelsea).
Midfielders: Mikel John Obi (Tianjin Teda), Ogenyi Onazi (Trabzonspor), Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester), Oghenekaro Etebo (CD Feirense), John Ogu (Hapoel Be’er Sheva), Joel Obi (Torino, Italy).
Forwards: Ahmed Musa, Kelechi Iheanacho (both Leicester), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Simeon Nwankwo (Crotone).
- Vs Croatia 20:00, 16.06.18 Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad
- Vs Iceland 16:00, 22.06.18 Volgograd Arena, Volgograd
- Vs Argentina 19:00, 26.06.18 Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg
Manager – Gernot Rohr
Nigeria don’t officially have a manager. German Gernot Rohr is employed as technical adviser going in to the tournament but overall control lies with the Nigerian Football Federation. His job is perhaps one of the least secure of all managers heading to Russia.
Rohr, a defender, made over 350 appearances for Bordeaux in a solid if unspectacular playing career, having made his professional debut for Bayern Munich. His managerial career has been somewhat unorthodox, leading him to France, Switzerland and Tunisia before he entered the African international circuit in 2010 with Gabon. Subsequent roles with Gabon, Niger and Burkina Faso eventually lead the NFF to decide he was the man to lead the Super Eagles.
Nigeria cruised through a potentially difficult qualifying group, beating Zambia, Cameroon and Algeria to top spot. 4 wins from their first 5 fixtures ensured the Super Eagles had secured their World Cup place before their final fixture in Algeria. It was just as well.
Nigeria drew 1-1 in their last match but the official result stands as a 3-0 defeat. Due to the fielding of an ineligible player, Nigeria were stripped of the point and presented with a sour end to a positive campaign. Fortunately, this shambolic error did not impact their qualification but their backroom staff must be more organised if they are going to make any impact in Russia.
Nigeria relied heavily on their Premier League contingent for goals during qualification. 9 goals in their opening 3 fixtures showed that they know where the goal is. They’d happily take that return in their 3 group games this time round.
Captain – John Obi Mikel
There will be a familiar face leading Nigeria this summer in the form of former Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel. As is the case with many players, Mikel’s role with his country is very different to what Premier League fans may be used to seeing. Having spent years as a disciplined defensive midfielder, Mikel removes the shackles when wearing green and becomes a dynamic, box to box midfielder.
His record of 6 goals in 82 appearances is nothing to write home about but Mikel brings a wealth of top level experience to his national side and with it a composure that makes him an ideal leader. He excelled in playing the entire 120 minutes of Chelsea’s famous Champions League final victory in Munich and can boast a medal collection that would be the envy of most. He was not always fully appreciated in England but his pedigree is hard to doubt. Although now 31 and plying his trade in the China, Mikel remains the clear leader of his nation.
Danger Man – Victor Moses
In one of the most unlikely career revivals in recent years, Victor Moses became a vital cog in Chelsea’s championship winning side during the 2016/17 season. In England Moses has forged a reputation as a solid, energetic wing-back. For Nigeria his role is far more advanced. Moses is relied upon for crosses, goals and inspiration.
Moses seems to enjoy having the shackles removed when wearing green. A useful squad member at Chelsea, he transforms in to a major star for Nigeria and embraces the responsibilities that come with this status. Moses’ experience and confidence will need to spread to his teammates if they are going to achieve anything in Russia. He may well surprise a few Premier League fans with the key role he plays in the summer.
Young Player – Kelechi Iheanacho
Kelechi Iheanacho’s move from Man City to Leicester was meant to be his big break. His goal ratio during his limited playing time at the Etihad was outstanding. He was all set to become the main man at the King Power. Unfortunately for Iheanacho, there was no way Jamie Vardy was going to step aside easily.
As the season reached its climax, Iheanacho started to find his feet. Screamers against Arsenal and Spurs reminded everyone what he is capable of. The Premier League is unforgiving and offers little time to settle but it must be remembered that Iheanacho is only 21.
His status with Nigeria is already high. He has scored at better than a goal every other game through his first 15 international appearances. If he is handed a starting berth he has the ability to sniff out a goal. A quick start and a confidence boosting early goal could establish Iheanacho as a major problem for opposing defenders.
Premier League Players
Plenty. Ola Aina is an interesting prospect. The Chelsea defender has spent the season gaining experience at Hull City and may see the World Cup as a potential career springboard. Success in the summer would vindicate his decision to choose Nigeria over a potential future England call up.
Kelechi Iheanacho, Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Wilfred Ndidi (fitness depending) offer a wealth of Premier League experience despite relatively young ages. English fans will also recognise captain Mikel and Odion Ighalo, once prolific for Watford. There is a rich heritage of Nigerians in English football and strong links between the two nations. Nigeria face England in a friendly just ten days before the tournament begins. England fans got a first-hand opportunity to see how their Premier League contingent fit in to the international set up, watching the Super Eagles lose 2-1 to England at Wembley in a warm-up friendly..
Firstly, I predict Nigeria to look better than any other team this summer as Nike have produced a green and white chevron spattered masterpiece in the form of their home jersey. If I had to guess though (which I do), I don’t foresee this being enough of a boost to see them through a tough group.
The fitness of Wilfred Ndidi could be vital to their aspirations. The Leicester midfielder offers stability and skill and would be sorely missed if his hamstring isn’t fully recovered in time for their tough opening fixture against Croatia.
Realistically you would suggest the Super Eagles need to pick up 4 points from their opening 2 fixtures before their daunting final showdown with Argentina. It isn’t an impossible aim but I don’t think it will happen. I predict an entertaining draw against Iceland coupled with defeat against Croatia and Argentina.
Nigeria though have plenty of attacking talent. Moses and Iwobi will offer width, with either Iheanacho, Musa or both certainly able to find the net. Perhaps most importantly, Nigeria need to avoid the drama and infighting that often follows them to major tournaments. A calm, focused squad would have an outside chance of causing a stir in Russia.
My final prediction – 3rd in Group and eliminated
Written by Dan Fox.