Monday, 7 June 2010
32 For 2010: Nigeria
USA 94 was the first tournament that I involved myself in properly that did not feature England. I was un-poisoned by the concoction of expectation mixed with the inevitability of failure and like many others, free to pick my own favourites unfettered by misplaced notions of patriotism and parochialism. The first team I chose was Nigeria (this was despite the appalling actions of the Abacha Regime in cahoots with the Shell corporation but lets not get into that shall we?)
Rashidi Yekini and Daniel Amakachi's goals in Nigeria's 3-0 demolition of Bulgaria began an odyssey that took the debutants through to the second round. But like all so many romantic World Cup adventures, their dreams were crushed by those perennial poopers of the party, Italy, thanks to a goal by some joker called Roberto Baggio.
These days Nigeria are a recognised African powerhouse and a semi-permanent fixture in the World Cup (they lost out to Angola in 2006). Having said that, the Super Eagles' path to South Africa was far from smooth. In fact, if Tunisia hadn't lost on the final round of qualifying games to a troublesome Mozambique side, the Nigerians would not have made it to the World Cup at all.
A third place showing at the Africa Cup Of Nations earlier in the year was not enough to save coach Shaibu Amodu's job. He was sacked in favour of the Swede Lars Lagerbeck who, like his compatriot Sven Goran Eriksson at Ivory Coast, has the job up until the end of the World Cup.
As for the players, well there are plenty of familiar names. Joseph Yobo of Everton, Mikel Jon Obi and Dickson Etuhu make up a West London axis in the midfield. Up front there's Yakubu (Everton), John Utaka (Porstmouth), Obefemi Martins (Wolfsburg) and of course the legend that is Nwankwo Kanu (82 - caps that is). Also take a look out for Chinedu Obasi, an explosive attacking midfielder who plays for Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga.
In a World Cup group that has echoes of their maiden outing in 1994, Nigeria have been drawn with Argentina and Greece once again along with South Korea. If Lagerbeck can instill some discipline into his players and a formation that suits their strengths then they have as good a chance as any to escape to the second round.