(Over the next month or so, we’re going to be doing previews for all 32 teams participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Yes, all 32 teams. We’ll make you laugh, cry, get mad and perhaps question why you read us in the first place. We hope you enjoy the product nonetheless)
Nigeria enters this World Cup as the champions of Africa. The Super Eagles won the 2013 African Cup of Nations (AFCON), beating Mali 1-0 in the final. In the Confederations Cup later that year, Nigeria finished third in their group. They failed to beat Uruguay and Spain but managed to beat Tahiti, which isn’t exactly impressive.
Nigeria will be looking to advance out of the group stage of the World Cup for the first time since 1998, and with one of the tournament’s easier groups, they certainly have a chance. Let’s look at Nigeria’s 23.
Goalkeepers: Vincent Enyeama (Lille), Austin Ejide (Hapoel Be’er Sheva), Chigozie Agbim (Gombe United).
Defenders: Elderson Echiejile (Monaco), Efe Ambrose (Celtic), Godfrey Oboabona (Rizespor), Azubuike Egwuekwe (Warri Wolves), Kenneth Omeruo (Chelsea), Juwon Oshaniwa (Ashdod), Joseph Yobo (Fenerbahce), Kunle Odunlami (Sunshine Stars).
Midfielders: John Mikel Obi (Chelsea), Ramon Azeez (Almeria), Ogenyi Onazi (Lazio), Reuben Gabriel (Waasland-Beveren), Michael Babatunde (Volyn Lutsk).
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow), Shola Ameobi (Newcastle), Emmanuel Emenike (Fenerbahce), Peter Odemwingie (Stoke), Michael Uchebo (Cercle Brugge), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Uche Nwofor (Heerenveen).
Nigeria’s strength is their depth and talent in attack. For Nigeria, their best striker based on international form is FIFA 13 legend Emmanuel Emenike. The Fenerbahce striker was the leading scorer at the 2013 AFCON with five goals. He has also scored three goals in his last three qualifying matches. 21-year-old Ahmed Musa will also be available for Nigeria. The CSKA Moscow attacker started all six of CSKA’s Champions League matches and has appeared in the starting XI in most of CSKA’s matches in the Russian League this season. Musa has bagged a respectable seven goals and two assists. A pair of Premier Leagues round out Nigeria’s attacking threats. Peter Odemwingie had a decent season for Stoke, getting seven goals along with three assists in 30 appearances for The Potters. Lastly there is the much maligned Victor Moses. This season at Liverpool, Moses rarely started and was deployed mainly as a sub. He has had more success playing for his country, with 6 goals in 17 games.
The midfield is led by Chelsea’ John Obi Mikel. His role for Nigeria is much more of a playmaking one than his role as deep (reaaaally deep) lying midfielder for Chelsea. Mikel has four goals in 50 Nigerian games, compared to a whopping one goal for Chelsea. While Mikel has the freedom to attack, Ogenyi Onazi will be holding down the midfield. The 21-year-old made 37 appearances for Lazio between Serie A and the Europa League.
Nigeria’s back line is their weak spot.
Luckily, Nigeria has an excellent goal keeper behind their unspectacular back four. Vincent Enyeama had a career year in 2013-14. The Lille goal keeper kept 20 clean sheets in 37 games, the most in Ligue 1. He also allowed a measly .70 goals per game, trailing only PSG’s Salvatore Sirigu in that department.
Nigeria has a lot of similarities with Bosnia and Herzegovina: a strong group of attackers, a decent midfield, a spotty defense and an excellent goalkeeper. The same two questions that can be asked of BiH can be asked of Nigeria. How far can their attack take them? How much can their goalkeeper do with a subpar backline in front of him? If Nigeria has a better answer to those questions than BiH, they advance. If not, they don’t.