World Cup Team Preview: Nigeria Brings Momentum to Brazil
It had been almost 20 years since Nigeria last captured the African Cup. Stephen Keshi was a member of the last team to win it and now he is charged with leading the Super Eagles in Brazil. However, tensions in the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) had Keshi on the verge of quitting before he was convinced to stay. Despite the internal tension, the players have gelled and exude confidence ahead of the World Cup.
Keshi was asked to announce his World Cup roster two months before the World Cup. The coach was angered by this because no other team is being asked to do so. It seems Keshi has won the battle and is being backed by some players asking the leaders of the NFF to back Keshi rather than battle him over the roster.
There were rumors last week that the NFF was cancelling some of the friendlies in the weeks prior to the World Cup. Assistant Director of Communications Ademola Olajire said on Sunday that the rumors are false. Nigeria will meet up in London on May 25 where they will play Scotland before flying to the U.S. The Super Eagles will play the USMNT in the last friendly on June 7 before heading to Brazil.
Victor Moses is the known name in the core of forwards for Nigeria. Moses was a late substitute for Liverpool in their win over Manchester City on Sunday, and he has been on the bench for most of his loan spell.
Another key player will be Ogenyi Onazi, who scored a goal for Lazio on Sunday. The youngster has shown his goal scoring prowess for club and country. Another player sure to feature is Emmanuel Emenike.
Keshi has said that there are sure to be surprises on his roster including players who have not been called in to the senior team before or in some time. One of those surprises could be Peter Osaze Odemwingie who has shined at Stoke City. His attitude has long been a problem, and that is part of why he has been shut out from the squad since 2012. He says he has reconciled with Keshi and has also been letting his play speak for him.
John Obi Mikel has fallen out of favor with his club team but expects to be a big part of the game plan for Nigeria. Ahmed Musa will also be part of the spine of the team although he has been asked to play defense at times. The wild card will be Sunday Mba, who has been trying to get his career back on track at French Ligue 2 side CA Bastia.
Three of the four defenders have stayed the same over the majority of the last year and a half. Uwe Echiejile and Efe Ambrose are the center back pairing. The right back position is the one that has rotated the most over the last year. Ambrose can play there, but with Azubuike Egwuekwe at that position during 2013, the Super Eagles did not suffer a loss.
Veteran Vincent Enyeama is the No. 1 in goal. He is also the captain and player leading the charge in support of Keshi. He has been a mainstay with Lille and had a streak of 1,062 minutes without allowing a goal come to an end in December with an own goal.
Nigeria has a good chance to advance out of the group stage, but will battle with Bosnia-Herzegovina for that second spot behind Argentina. They will advance to play France where their run will come to an end.