Nigeria World Cup 2014 Team Profile

Nigeria - World Cup 2014 Team Profile

Nigeria.

Sean O'Conor reports

Road to Brazil

Nigeria enjoyed a smooth ride to the finals, easily topping a group containing the modest challenges of Kenya, Malawi and Namibia, before beating Ethiopia home and away in the final play-off.

Fixtures

Nigeria team jersey kit 1 (c) Soccerphile. Nigeria team jersey kit 2 (c) Soccerphile.

Nigeria Kit 1
Copyright © Soccerphile

Nigeria Kit 2
Copyright © Soccerphile

Nigeria v Iran v 15 June; Curitiba
Nigeria v Bosnia - Herzegovina 21 June; Cuiaba
Nigeria v Argentina 25 June; Porto Alegre

Analysis

The African champions qualified comfortably, but in defeats to Spain and Uruguay in last year's Confederations Cup, the team looked highly unlikely to challenge for the World Cup.

Yet Nigeria arrive in Brazil full of confidence thanks to the man-management skills of manager Stephen Keshi and his assistant Daniel Amokachi, who both starred in their country's World Cup exodus at USA '94. Since Brazil 2013, Nigeria have shored up their leaky defence and held Italy, Mexico, Scotland and Greece to draws.

The team stays true to the national tradition of muscular, attacking football, played at speed and using positive forward passing. But their inability to change their vertical rhythm and frustrate their opponents could be their Achilles' heel. The desire is always to run with the ball, feed the wingers and fire crosses into the box, and their only alternative is for John Obi Mikel to drop back into an advanced sweeper role and pull the wingers back into midfield.

Keshi has tried out a variety of midfielders and attackers, mining the domestic league as well as overseas ones before settling on his final 23. Their preferred shape resembles 4-3-3 with two wingers supplementing the central striker, although there is much fluidity within that.

The squad is not replete with riches or famous names compared to previous squads but that could be an advantage as an absence of egos and modest expectations will lower their stress levels.

Keshi's 23 veers on the side of experience, although a pair of 21 year-old midfielders Michel Babatunde (4 caps) and Ramon Azeez (1 cap) have been included as back-up, as well as a couple of strikers in their mid-twenties plying their trade in the Low Countries: Heerenveen's Uche Nwofor and Cercle Brugge's Michael Uchebo have only nine caps between them.

The squad ply their trade in thirteen different nations and pleasingly, three of them are from the Nigerian Premier League.

Emmanuel Emenike remains the marksman tasked with finishing off moves, but the focus of the side is on the attacking midfielders around him. Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa provide pacy runs from either flank, but defensive midfielder Ogenyi Onazi is just as vital as his hard work frees up Mikel to play.

Keshi has made up with Peter Odemwingie, who offers more forward options, along with Nwofor, though the other strikers, Uchebo and veteran Shola Ameobi. are less than reliable.

Their best player remains their goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, whose calmness and excellent shot-stopping ability were on show at South Africa 2010 and breed confidence throughout the team.

Key player: John Obi Mikel

John Obi Mikel may be something of a forgotten figure amid Chelsea's millionaires but the 27 year-old remains at the heart of his national team for his orchestrating skills. Whether based ahead of the two central midfielders or sat in front of the back four, he is the main man in sparking the transitions and pivotal to attacking moves.

One to watch: Victor Moses

Victor Moses has struggled to get into Liverpool's side after similar frustration with Chelsea, but the former Crystal Palace prodigy was a constant danger in the recent friendly against Scotland, proving he has lost none of his silky skills. Aged 23, he could be one of the tournament's outstanding young players.

Coach: Stephen Keshi

Stephen Keshi is not called 'Big Boss' for nothing. A father figure and leader combined, the former Mali and Togo manager carries an aura about him and has no enemies bar a few blowhards at the football federation. The sight of a respectful press conference in London in May, where the normally abrasive African journalists were scrabbling to have their photos snapped with Keshi, spoke volumes about his presence.

Keshi likes strong-willed players and has worked hard to solidify an inexperienced back four which was exposed at the Confederations Cup. He admits he is planning for 2018 more than for this year and insists he is still learning his craft, but his loyalty to attacking football should mean the neutral at least will be entertained.

FIFA World Ranking

Record

Second Round 1994, 1998; First Round 2002, 2010.

World Cup Betting

Soccerphile Says

Nigeria have slipped under the radar of most observers, not least because of their absurdly low world ranking, but there are good reasons to believe the Super Eagles can advance and surprise, not least because they are in the easier half of the draw.

They have no excuses not to finish second in Group F behind Argentina and then face the winners of Group E (France, Ecuador, Switzerland and Honduras), providing them with an excellent chance of making the quarter-finals, where Belgium, Germany or Portugal await.

An inspiring coach and a united squad have created the perfect platform. Whisper it, but Keshi's men could even go where no African team has gone before.

2014 World Cup Squad

Goalkeepers: Vincent Enyeama (Lille), Austin Ejide (Hapoel Be'er Sheva), Chigozie Agbim (Gombe United)

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

Midfielders: John Obi Mikel (Chelsea), Victor Moses (Liverpool), Ogenyi Onazi (Lazio), Reuben Gabriel (Waasland-Beveren), Michel Babatunde (Volyn Lutsk), Ramon Azeez (Almeria)

Strikers: Peter Odemwingie (Stoke City), Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow), Emmanuel Emenike (Fenerbahce), Shola Ameobi (unattached), Uche Nwofor (Heerenveen), Michael Uchebo (Cercle Brugge)