32 Countries

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32 Teams in 32 Days: Nigeria

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Jamie Trecker

Jamie Trecker is the Senior Editor for FOXSoccer.com. A working journalist for 25 years, he covers the Champions League, European soccer and the world game. Follow him on Twitter.

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Each day between May 10 and the day before the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup on June 11, FoxSoccer.com analyst Jamie Trecker will preview each of the 32 teams playing in South Africa and tell you everything you need to know about each nation represented at the world's greatest sporting event.

Country: Nigeria
Nickname: The Super Eagles

Nigeria is a kleptocracy that milks the most populous African nation. Oil wealth has made this massive African nation one of the most dangerous, most corrupt, most impoverished and straight-out saddest countries on earth. Despite billions and billions of dollars in annual oil revenue, virtually none of it reaches the general population, instead lining the pockets of one "big man" after another.

NIGERIA

Nigeria Team Page
World Cup schedule

June 12: vs. Argentina (Johannesburg)
June 17: vs. Greece (Bloemfontein)
June 22: vs. South Korea (Durban)


 Home     Away
Key players

Mikel Jon Obi, Midfielder
Aiyegbeni Yakubu, Forward
Best WC result: Last 16 in 1994, '98
FIFA World Rank: 21


Adding to the discord is the legacy of colonization and the North-South split in the nation along religious lines: Christians to the North, Muslims to the South. What passes for government in Nigeria is usually an uneasy balance between the two religions. However, since that government seems to exist only to leech off its populace and mineral wealth, it is predictably ineffective. War is a regular occurrence in Nigeria, and drug and arms smuggling have made it an almost-failed state.

The only thing that unifies the country is the national football team. And sadly, it reflects its state all too well.

The local league is hopelessly corrupt, with games that are routinely fixed. The youth national teams have been successful -- but too often tainted by accusations of cheating. African and some Asian players have routinely lied about their true ages in order to play in the age-eligible competitions, and until FIFA began cracking down on it, Nigeria was known as one of the worst offenders. In fact, prior to the U-17 World Cup that Nigeria hosted last year, FIFA announced it would begin conducting bone scans on all players in an effort to stamp out the practice. The day after, 16 Nigerian players -- half the squad -- dropped out of camp.

The sad part about all this is that corruption seems so endemic in Nigerian culture that it threatens to obscure the fact that some Nigerian players are world class. They play a gorgeous, flowing style of soccer when they are on, and some of their players have justifiably become legends, with Nwankwo Kanu and Jay-Jay Okocha being two prime examples. Sadly, the team tends to dissolve into pointless squabbles over the usual, venal matters. Bonuses aren’t paid, roster choices are always suspect and being a coach in Nigeria requires a hefty cash deposit up front, because you're not likely to see any more.

If Nigeria could get its act together, it could be one of the great footballing powers on the planet. Since it cannot, it won't.

PAST WORLD CUP SUCCESS: This is Nigeria's fourth Cup. Best showing was in America in 1994, where many observers feel they could have won the whole shebang. (Obviously, they didn't.) Recent history is a bit tougher: They stunk it up in Japan and failed to qualify for Germany.

REGIONAL SUCCESS: Two-time winners of the African Cup of Nations (1980, 1994). At the Olympic level (which is an Under-23 competition), they took gold in Atlanta (1996) and silver in Beijing (2008). See above for the caveats.

LEAGUE OVERVIEW: It's a corrupt mess. See above.

MANAGER: Lars Lagerbeck. The former coach of Sweden quit after that country failed to qualify for the Cup. If he actually makes it to the Cup, it'll be something of a miracle as he's already had one run-in over non-payment, and Nigeria has a habit of firing their foreign coaches on the eve of a major tournament to reward some politically connected local hack.

KEY PLAYERS: Kanu, allegedly 33, is still playing in England for Portsmouth. Despite the fact that he may actually be closer to 42, he's going to play. Defender Joseph Yobo (Everton) is very solid as is his counterpart at Bolton, the unfortunately named Danny Shittu. The star is John Obi Mikel (Chelsea), who has been transformed from a foul-prone hothead into one of the better holding midfielders in the game. Yakubu (Aikegbeni; he goes by one name at Everton) and Obafemi Martins (Wolfsburg) are the target men up top, running off the erratic Victor Anichebe (Everton).

FIFA RANKINGS: 21st. Top was 5th in those heady days of 1994; lowest was 82nd in 1999.

FIRST ROUND OPPONENTS: Argentina, South Korea, Greece

HEAD TO HEAD AGAINST ARGENTINA: Nigeria has a long history against Argentina, but mainly at the youth level -- where Nigeria holds a firm edge. At the senior level, however, Argentina dominates. They have met twice in the World Cup, and lost to the Albicelestes both times. In 1994, Nigeria fell 2-1 in Foxboro; in 2002, Argentina got the better of them in Japan, 1-0. They played to a scoreless draw at the 1995 Confederations Cup.

HEAD TO HEAD AGAINST GREECE: Nigeria whipped 'em in the game that mattered, 2-0 back at Foxboro in the 1994 World Cup. They dropped a friendly by the same score in Greece five years later after most of their top players failed to show up.

HEAD TO HEAD AGAINST SOUTH KOREA: Never met.

POLL

  • How far will Nigeria go?
    • Win it all
    • Finals
    • Semis
    • Quarters
    • Round of 16
    • Won't make it past group play


HOW THEY QUALIFIED: Barely. They needed a big win over Kenya on the final day. Had Tunisia won its game, Nigeria wouldn't have made it at all. That said: Nigeria didn't lose a game (9-3-0) in qualifying. And yet, there was a lot missing.

PERCENTAGE CHANCE TO PROGRESS: 75%. If Nigeria cannot get out of this group, on African soil, there's something deeply wrong. Since we've already noted that there are, in fact, many things deeply wrong with this side, if/when they flop out, don't say we didn't warn you.

TO WATCH: First off, see if a coach actually shows up. Next, see if the players take the field. After that, see if the guys talk to one another. If you get all three, this team has a good shot.

ROSTER

Goalkeepers: Vincent Enyeama (Hapoel Tel Aviv), Dele Ayenugba (Beni Yehuda FC), Bassey Akpan (Bayelsa United), Austine Ejide (Hapoel Petah Tikva)

Defenders: Taye Taiwo (Marseille), Elderson Echiejile (Rennes), Chidi Odiah (CSKA Moscow), Onyekachi Apam (Nice), Joseph Yobo (Everton), Daniel Shittu (Bolton), Ayodele Adeleye (Sparta Rotterdam), Rabiu Afolabi (Salzburg), Peter Suswan (Lobi Stars)

Midfielders: Kalu Uche (Almeria), Dickson Etuhu (Fulham), John Obi Mikel (Chelsea), Sani Kaita (Alaniya), Lukman Haruna (Monaco), Ayila Yussuf (Dynamo Kiev), Peter Osaze (Lokomotiv Moscow)

Forwards: Yakubu Ayegbeni (Everton), Victor Anichebe (Everton), Chinedu Obasi (Hoffenheim), Nwankwo Kanu (Portsmouth), Obafemi Martins (Wolfsburg), Ideye Brown (Sochaux), Ikechukwu Uche (Zaragoza), John Utaka (Portsmouth), Peter Utaka (OB Odense), Victor Obinna (Malaga)

TOMORROW'S TEAM: Cameroon

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