Though they have arguably looked worse than Africa's five other World Cup entrants, Nigeria has the best chance to advance. They must beat South Korea on Tuesday, and if they do, the only help they need is an Argentina victory over Greece. While that combined result might not be probable, it's certainly no long shot.
Those who have seen South Korea play might find it a long shot. The Koreans were one of the tournament's most impressive teams after one round, putting up an easy 2-0 victory over a Greece side that would go on to beat Nigeria. In their second match South Korea lost 4-1, but for a twenty minute stretch in the second half, South Korea looked poised for an equalizer.
The gap between South Korea and Nigeria may be larger than three points if measured by quality of play, but wins and draws dictate Group B's table. With only one result separating the sides, and teams of similar talent levels, how each coach manages their side could determine which team does through.
South Korea, Going Forward: The same advantage South Korea has had in their preceding two group stage matches - wing play - will continue to benefit them in this match, provided Muh Jung-Moo decides to use that strength. In his match against Argentina, Muh moved Park Ji-Sung into the middle, exposing one of his best players to Javier Mascherano. Although Nigeria does not have a Mascherano-esque player, they have strength in defensive midfield. Muh needs to keep Park wide.
If South Korea uses their wing play, it will only accentuate their other advantage in attack: Park Chu-Young. Playing centrally as a supporting striker, Park is the type of player whose movement can find space in front of Joseph Yobo and Danny Shittu. Play down the wings from Park Ji-Sung and Lee Chong-Yong will create the angles by which Park Chu-Young can be leveraged.
Nigeria, Going Forward: Nigeria has one goal in this tournament, scored off a set piece misplayed by Greece's keeper. With Lars Lagerback insistent on playing 4-4-2 with 4-3-3 personnel, it's unclear whether Nigeria will have their tactics figured out in time to threaten South Korea. Unable to worry Argentina or Greece, it may be best to assume they will provide similar levels of concern to the Koreans.
The biggest problem with Lagerback's approach: it always leaves one of Nigeria's two best attackers on the bench. Against Argentina, Lagerback had to sacrifice Peter Odemwingie, the team's best creative presence, in order to have both Yakubu Aiyegbeni (the target man) and Chinedu Obasi in the lineup. Against Greece, Obasi was dropped for Odemwingie, only to have the Hoffenheim-man return at halftime. For Odemwingie.
Lagerback needs to play both of these players at the same time. I know it's a novel concept - putting your best players on the field - but the new Super Eagles coach needs to try it. Else, the Swede will continue writing his book on how not to fit-in after taking a new job months before the World Cup.
How The Match Turns: Nigeria is amazingly close to making the knockout stage. If they win and Greece lose to Argentina, they're in. Unfortunately, the Super Eagles have given us no reason to think them capable of beating South Korea, a team that has played well in two matches (even if one of the scores hints otherwise). If Nigeria turned it around, it would not be the first time we've seen a team find itself before their third group stage match.