At the high-end, Nigeria's collection of attacking talent is not as impressive as Argentina's, but I bring-up the Albiceleste because they are the only team in the 2010 World Cup whose depth in advanced attackers rivals that of the Super Eagles. Argentina's got the one name stars - Messi, Milito, Higuaín, Tévez, Aguero, Di Maria, Brick Top - but Nigeria's got quantity to match: Everton's Yakubu Aiyegbeni; Lokomotiv Moscow's Peter Odemwingie; Hoffenheim Chinedu Obasi; Wolfsburg's Obafemi Martins; Málaga's Victor Obinna; Portsmouth pair John Utaka and captain Nwankwu Kanu.
It's not that Nigeria lacks talent - it's that the talent is all concentrated in one place. They have seven players for three spots in their 4-3-3 formation, and through the rest of their squad, you only find center half Joseph Yobo and left back Taye Taiwo who are have similar quality. Particularly given the injury absence of Yusuf Mohammed - the Eagles' best defensive player at January's African Cup of Nations - the defense is more vulnerable than usual.
But the major problem area is the midfield. A team that already has difficulties in link-up play and creativity lost Mikel John Obi to injury last week, leaving the team with a collection of rugged defensive midfielders and Monaco's Lukman Haruna - a skilled 20-year old who was cut from the Cup of Nations squad. Haruna has only five caps and has yet to play a major part in the team. At best, he's a wildcard, and if the wildcard gets pulled, it only slightly patches the midfield's problems.
The thinking is that Lars Lagerbäck can address these problems. The former coach of Sweden brought the country great successes during his decade guiding the national team, helping them qualify for five straight major tournaments between 2000 and 2009. However, recent results have not been as impressive. Sweden disappointed at Euro 2008 and failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Lagerback resigned after finishing the qualifying campaign and was available to move to Nigeria.
The late hiring with the Super Eagles means he has had less then four months with the team. So much work, so little time.
How They Got Here
Nigeria blew through their four team, second round qualifying group with a perfect record. A third round qualifying group featuring Tunisia, Mozambique and Kenya was not navigated as smoothly, with the Super Eagles eventually winning their World Cup birth by one point over Tunisia.
It's always difficult to qualify out of African, where the sample size at the final stage is so small, and each nation has little margin-for-error. However, Nigeria's path did not provide many tests.
Players To Watch
With Mikel out, Peter Odemwingie is going to be key. Nominally a forward, Odemwingie has had to serve as an attacking midfielder often, dropping back from his place in the formation to promote link-up play. This happened so much at the Cup of Nations that Odemwingie made the all tournament team as a midfielder. Even if Haruna can serve as an improvement on Mikel (as it concerns creativity), Odemwingie is still going to need to provide the 20-year-old a safety valve.
At the back, the pairing of Joseph Yobo and Danny Shittu in central defense are solid. They are not particularly quick, and if you can break down Nigeria through the wings and force Yobo and Shittu out, things can get messy pretty quickly. However, these are two quality, experienced players who will force you to create your opportunities (as opposed to gifting them to you).
How Far They Can Get
Nigeria will have trouble with Argentina and South Korea; however, particularly against South Korea, if they can find an early goal, they have defenders and defensive midfielders that could allow them to hold a lead. Nigeria could have a quarterfinal run in them if they get out of Group B and use the same formula in their second round match with whomever comes out of Group A.
|June 12||Argentina||Johannesburg (Ellis Park)|
|June 22||Korea Republic||Durban|
|Aiyenugba, Dele||26||9||0||Bnei Yehuda (Israel)|
|Ejide, Austin||26||17||0||Hapoel Petah Tikva (Israel)|
|Enyeama, Vincent||27||53||0||Hapoel Tel Aviv (Israel)|
|Adeleye, Dele||21||6||0||Metalurh Donetsk (Ukraine)|
|Afolabi, Rabiu||20||14||0||Red Bull Salzburg (Austria)|
|Echiejile, Uwa Elderson||22||11||0||Braga (Portugal)|
|Odiah, Chidi||26||24||1||CSKA Moscow (Russia)|
|Shittu, Danny||29||25||0||Bolton Wanderers (England)|
|Taiwo, Taye||25||37||3||Marseille (France)|
|Yobo, Joseph||29||66||4||Everton (England)|
|Brown, Ideye||21||0||0||Sochaux (France)|
|Etuhu, Dickson||28||13||0||Fulham (England)|
|Haruna, Lukman||20||5||1||Monaco (France)|
|Kaita, Sani||19||0||0||Alania Vladikavkax (Russia)|
|Kanu, Nwankwo||33||83||13||Portsmouth (England)|
|Ucha, Kalu||27||21||2||Almeria (Spain)|
|Yussuf, Ayila||25||27||2||Dyanmo Kyiv (Ukraine)|
|Aiyegbaeni, Yakubu||27||52||20||Everton (England)|
|Martins, Obafemi||25||31||17||Wolfsburg (Germany)|
|Obasi, Chinedu||24||23||4||Hoffenheim (Germany)|
|Obinna, Victory||23||32||11||Malaga (Spain)|
|Odemwingiw, Peter||28||45||8||Lokomotiv Moscow (Russia)|
|Utaka, John||28||43||6||Portsmouth (England)|
Nigeria World Cup Team Card
SB Nation Soccer will be distributing team cards for each of the World Cup's 32 entrants. Here is Nigeria's: