Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Nigeria

Expectations are diminished for Nigeria at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, but it was not long ago that the Super Eagles were seen as the most likely African nation to finally reach the last four of a FIFA World Cup. And though they have just one point from their last five matches in the finals and missed out on Germany 2006 altogether, the continent’s most populous nation looks likely to be a dangerous dark horse with little to lose up against the world’s best.

That was how the side came to USA 94, where they dismantled eventual semi-finalists Bulgaria 3-0 in their first match before going on to cruelly fall 2-1 against Italy in the second round. However, that was not before the likes of Sunday Oliseh, Victor Ikpeba, Jay-Jay Okocha and Finidi George had become synonymous with the next generation of explosive African football. A similarly quick start in 1998 - they stunned Spain 3-2 in one of the matches of the tournament to start and beat Bulgaria again 1-0 - gave way to another second round defeat, this time a disheartening thumping at the hands of Denmark 4-1. But after dramatically reaching South Africa in their final qualifier, Nigeria could be forgiven for going into the finals with a positive attitude.

The road to South Africa
A surprising scoreless draw in their first match in the final round of CAF qualifying to Mozambique left Nigeria playing catch-up to Tunisia from the start, and consecutive draws with the Carthage Eagles had the west Africans staring elimination in the face. However, Tunisia lost 1-0 in Mozambique and Nigeria came from a goal behind twice to win 3-2 in Kenya. Striker Obafemi Martins was the hero on the day, coming on at half-time before scoring the first equaliser on the hour mark and the winner just nine minutes from time. The goal stamped Nigeria’s ticket to the next World Cup.

The star players
The Super Eagles have the ability to score a lot of goals in South Africa behind a pacy, dynamic attack that features the likes of Martins, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Peter Odemwingie as well as youngsters Victor Obinna and Ikechukwu Uche and evergreen Nwankwo Kanu in what is surely his last role of the dice. They won’t be a soft touch behind that either, with Jon Obi Mikel anchoring the midfield, and captain Joseph Yobo in the centre of defence.

The coach
Qualification was sweet vindication for Nigeria coach Shaibu Amodu, who was embattled from the start of the final round of qualifying. The veteran has led the national team on two previous occasions, including during the second half of a successful qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup -- though he was sacked before the finals after a semi-final exit at the CAF African Cup of Nations.

Record
• Nigeria’s 3-0 waltz over Bulgaria in their USA 94 debut match was more remarkable given that the Europeans went on to beat Greece, Argentina, Mexico and Germany in the tournament.

• Since Clemens Westerhof built the 1994 side and left the Super Eagles, the team has been coached by such well-known European journeymen as Jo Bonfrere, Philippe Troussier, Bora Milutinovic and Berti Vogts.

• Nigeria have a rich history at other worldwide tournaments, having won the 1985, 1993 and 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup as well as the 1996 Olympic Football Tournament.

What they said
“The finals in South Africa will be a tournament for all Africans. The South Africans may be hosting, but we will all be playing for the honour of the continent. The first order is to put a team together that is good enough and prepared enough to take up the challenge. The Nigerian people will be desperate for us to make a mark in 2010 and that is our aim. It will be my goal to put some of these players together with the older boys and make a more powerful Nigerian team than anyone has ever seen before,” Nigeria coach Shaibu Amodu.

(fifa.com)

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