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World Cup 2014 Guide: Nigeria

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The Super Eagles of Nigeria have been one of Africa’s strongest footballing nations over the last twenty years or so, with this year being their 4th appearance at the World Cup finals out of the last five tournaments.  As Scotland found out on Wednesday, Nigeria have a strength in-depth that makes them a tough side to play against, but their chances of going far in the tournament may be limited.

Nigeria’s Footballing History

From relative obscurity, Nigerian football really developed during the late 70s with two third place finishes in the Africa Cup of Nations being followed by a win in 1980.  Their next victory in the tournament was in 1994.

World Cup qualifying success was more elusive for them, with their first appearance in 1994 at the 9th time of asking.  They surprisingly topped their group in the USA on goal difference along with Argentina and Greece and went on to face Italy in the last 16, where they were defeated by an extra time penalty from Roberto Baggio.

Nigeria had similar success in the 1998 World Cup, beating Spain in their opening group game on their way to finishing 1st in the group ahead of Paraguay.  Once again though, the Super Eagles went crashing out in the last 16 with a convincing 4-1 Danish win putting them out.

The most recent World Cups haven’t been so kind to Nigeria, with 4th placed finishes in 2002 and 2010.  In neither competition did they manage to win a game, with a draw against England in 2002 and South Korea in 2010 being the only points they received in either tournament.

Nigeria are currently the African champions after winning their third title last year in South Africa with a 1-0 win over Burkina Faso in the final.

Nigeria’s Road to the Finals

The Super Eagles went undefeated in their Road to Brazil, winning their four-team qualification group with 3 wins and 3 draws.  Despite topping the group, it’s worth noting that they only managed 7 goals in 6 games, which is hardly an impressive haul against the relatively weak sides of Kenya, Malawi and Namibia.

After winning their group Nigeria went up against Ethiopia for the World Cup berth.  Despite going behind in the away leg, a brace from Emmanuel Emenike saw them take a 2-1 win which followed up by a 2-0 win at home in Lagos to progress.

Nigeria’s Key Players

There are many Nigerian players plying their trade in some of the top leagues in Europe at the moment, with perhaps the most notable being John Obi Mikel who has been a Chelsea midfield regular for the best part of five years.  At the back is Celtic’s Efe Ambrose and Norwich’s Joseph Yobo, who will likely receive his 100th cap for his country at the World Cup if he plays in all group games.  Up front is Victor Moses, who despite having a weak season on loan at Liverpool looked threatening when he came on against Scotland.

Nigeria’s Group

The first opponent for Nigeria is perhaps the game they are most hopeful of getting a result from against Iran on the 16th of June (8pm, BBC).  The next game is against perhaps the main competition for Nigeria in obtaining a last 16 berth: newcomers Bosnia & Herzegovina on the 21st of June (11pm, BBC).  Bosnia are a team with plenty of attacking flair that might surprise in the competition. Yet again, Nigeria have been drawn against Argentina in the World Cup and will close out the group stage against them on the 25th of June (5pm, ITV).

Prediction

Although the draw was almost kind to Nigeria, with Argentina being the only remarkably strong side in their group I think it will be close between Bosnia and Nigeria for the second spot.  What might see the Super Eagles through is their experience on the big international stage, and if they can manage to get to the last 16 they will have every belief that they can go on to reach the quarters for the first time.  My money is on Bosnia for the second spot, though, as I believe their attack will be able to breach the Nigerian defence, shown to have frailties against Scotland.

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About Author

Steven Kellow is a Ross County fan currently exiled as a student in Aberdeen. Aside from following the Staggies and Scottish football in general, he takes an interest in the more obscure and abstract features of the beautiful game: analysing football history, competitions and the side of football off the pitch. Enjoys writing about a range of topics apart from football too. He can actually understand BBC Alba commentary also.

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