Born John Michael Nchekwube Obinna, Chelsea and Manchester United got into an almighty tussle over the midfielder back in 2006. United even went to so far as presenting him in a press conference, having struck a deal directly with the player and his Norwegian club Lyn. But as it turned out, Chelsea had a pre-existing deal with his agents that had steered Obi Mikel to Norway for seasoning in the first place, and so he landed in London. And he proved worth the trouble. Now 27, he became one of the Europe’s most consistently outstanding deep-sitting midfielders.
Action Images / ReutersMIKE HUTCHINGS
After the Super Eagles were embarrassed at the 2010 World Cup, failing to win any of their three games and getting eliminated in the group stage, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan announced that he had banned the national team from competition for the next two years. He quickly had to go back on that weird proclamation, as FIFA threatened a much harsher punishment if politics were allowed to interfere in the national soccer program. By the end of October 2010, both the Nigerian government and FIFA had reinstated the team, and they’ll be happy with the outcome. In 2013 they went on to win the African Cup of Nations for the first time since 1994.
AFP/Getty ImagesARIS MESSINIS
The greatest generation of Nigerian players -- a group including Daniel Amokachi, Finidi George, Jay-Jay Okocha, Rashidi Yekini and current coach Stephen Keshi -- claimed the country's first World Cup berth in 1994 and led the Super Eagles to the round of 16. The evolving group replicated the knockout stage feat four years later in France, but as the core aged and disintegrated, the results dipped accordingly. The past two appearances have yielded swift exits after three matches.
AFP/Getty ImagesROMEO GACAD
Favorable. Group F will see the Nigerians square off against one of the World Cup favorites in Argentina. It also gives them a good chance against Iran and first-time Bosnia & Herzegovina. This isn’t a hugely talented Nigerian team, and so, to stand a chance was a very good outcome from the draw.
Getty ImagesBuda Mendes
Round of 16 prospects
Manageable. There’s little doubt that the Group F-Group E crossover sports the weakest talent in the bracket. And so, provided they avoid the French out of the other group, Nigeria should have an opportunity to catch people by surprise and advance over Ecuador, Switzerland or Honduras and into the quarterfinals.
Action Images / ReutersAFOLABI SOTUNDE
How they got here
Keshi emerged from the usual backroom wrangling to take control of the qualifying process. The trio of Kenya, Malawi and Namibia presented little threat to derail the ascent to the summit in Group F. It took minimal prodding to proceed through without a defeat and set up an altogether manageable playoff tie against Ethiopia. Emmanuel Emenike's double in Addis Ababa claimed to a 2-1 victory in the first leg and cleared the way for a 4-1 triumph on aggregate.
Action Images / ReutersTHOMAS MUKOYA
The safe path through qualifying masked some of the concerns about this group against more rigorous competition. Keshi somehow imparted his wisdom through the usual distractions in this fractious setup and molded together a solid unit without the top-end talent of the teams of those golden years. The increased emphasis on organization does little to instill faith about the rearguard actions against stronger opponents, while the direct play through midfield lacks the ideas often conjured in the past, even when Emenike applies the finishing touch. A berth in the knockout stage would represent a good return for this group, given those inherent limitations.