6 June 2014

Nigeria: Super Eagles Need Polish but Improve Steadily

Photo: Chris Ricco/Backpagepix
Emmanuel Emenike, 9, in action at the Africa Cup of Nations last year, will play a crucial role for the Super Eagles in Brazil. His pace and hard running style make him a dangerous opponent, but he also has the ability to bring others into the game and is a regular provider of assists.

In the fifth of AllAfrica's profiles of the African contenders at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Nick Said assesses the Super Eagles of Nigeria. Read his profiles of Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, Algeria, and Cameroon. Follow Africa's fortunes on our World Cup page and on our dedicated Twitter feed @AllAfricaSport

OVERVIEW

The Super Eagles were in transition before they went to the African Nations Cup tournament in 2013.

At the Johannesburg airport arrival press conference, coach Stephen Keshi famously asserted that his primary aim was to build a team he hoped could be serious contenders in the future, specifically the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

But within weeks Nigeria emerged as the new African champions.

A trip to the Confederations Cup in Brazil in mid-year showed Nigeria still need of a lot of polish but their young side has continued to improve with every game and they are now being touted as a credible participant at the 2014 finals.

Nigeria won their key World Cup qualifying group game over Malawi in September to go through to the play-off where they won both at home and away against Ethiopia.

Their pacey play is a trademark of their ability but Keshi makes sure they are also tight and compact in defence and midfield.

He plays almost a fatherly role to the young players, having been the captain of the first Nigerian side to go to a World Cup -- in the U.S. in 1994.

COACH

Keshi will relish the opportunity to work on the biggest stage of them all, having suffered huge disappointment in 2006.

The former Nigeria international caused a shock by qualifying Togo for the finals in Germany, but was then dumped in favour of Otto Pfister as the country's football association wanted a more experienced coach to lead the team at the global showpiece.

He showed no hard feelings by re-engaging with Togo for a year in 2007, but left them to coach Mali in 2008. He was back in Togo again briefly in 2011, before his dream job came up in Nigeria, and later that year he became the Super Eagles coach.

A fine defender, his most notable achievements came in Belgium and France where he played for Anderlecht and Strasbourg respectively, just the second man to win the tournament as a player and a coach after the Egyptian Mahmoud El-Gohary.

FORM

The good news is that Nigeria have lost just one of their nine games so far in 2014, and that was with a shadow squad at the African Nations Championship in South Africa.

But that is slightly tempered by the fact that they have drawn each of their past three games, though those did come against Mexico, Scotland and Greece, all good opponents.

Their full side's last defeat in a competitive fixture happened a year ago in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup against world champions Spain, so confidence should not be a problem.

They have a final warm-up match against the U.S. in Florida on Saturday before they head to Brazil.

KEY WEAPON

Creating opportunities has never been a problem for Nigeria, but putting the ball in the back of the net has proven more challenging.

In that regard striker Emmanuel Emenike will play a crucial role as he comes off a fine season in Turkey with Feberbahce.

An interesting player, he was competing in the lower leagues of South Africa in 2009, ignored by the big Premier Soccer League clubs, but moved to Turkey later that year where his career skyrocketed and he is now a regular scorer in the UEFA Champions League.

His pace and hard running style make him a dangerous opponent, but he also has the ability to bring others into the game and is a regular provider of assists.

GROUP F OPPONENTS

June 16 vs Iran (Curitiba) - A good opening for Nigeria against a plucky but limited Iranian side. No game is easy at this level, but if the Super Eagles are to have genuine thoughts of the second round then this is a must-win. And a victory would certainly build confidence for tougher challenges to come.

June 21 vs Bosnia-Herzegovina (Cuiabá) - Probably the pivotal match in the pool for Nigeria, who come up against a decent side that is also in very good form. Do Nigeria have the firepower to beat them? They do, but they will also likely have to perform at near optimum level.

June 25 vs Argentina (Porto Alegre) - A repeat of their clash at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where Argentina dominated but were kept at bay by the brilliance of goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama before eventually scoring to win 1-0.

Should Nigeria make it out of their Group F, they will take on one of the top two sides in Group E that contains France, Ecuador, Switzerland and Honduras. Not the most daunting of opponents, though all good teams.

SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Chigozie Agbim (Gombe United), Austin Ejide (Hapoel Beer Sheva), Vincent Enyeama (Lille).

Defenders: Efe Ambrose (Celtic), Elderson Echiejile (Monaco), Azubuike Egwuekwe (Warri Wolves), Kunle Odunlami (Sunshine Stars), Godfrey Oboabona (Caykur Rizespor), Kenneth Omeruo (Middlesbrough), Juwon Oshaniwa (Ashdod), Joseph Yobo (Norwich City).

Midfielders: Ramon Azeez (Almeira), Reuben Gabriel (Waasland-Beveren), John Mikel Obi (Chelsea), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Ogenyi Onazi (Lazio), Michael Uchebo (Cercle Brugge).

Forwards: Shola Ameobi (Newcastle United), Michael Babatunde (Volyn Lutsk), Emmanuel Emenike (Fenerbahce), Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow), Uche Nwofor (Heerenveen), Peter Odemwingie (Stoke City).

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InFocus

Nigeria Can Enter World Cup With Confidence

Emmanuel Emenike, 9, in action at the Africa Cup of Nations last year, will play a crucial role for the Super Eagles in Brazil. His pace and hard running style make him a dangerous opponent, but he also has the ability to bring others into the game and is a regular provider of assists.

NIgeria's Super Eagles are a young side which needs polish but they continue to improve with every game and confidence should not be a problem, writes Nick Said for AllAfrica. Read more »