Nigeria: in the shadow of the Eagles of the past

The Super Eagles

All is not well with the Super Eagles.  The past few years have seen them fail to produce the sort of form that shot them to global fame in their hey-day in the 1990’s.  Nigeria famously reached the second-round after excellent performances in 1994, and were unlucky to be eliminated by eventual finalists Italy, after a magic show from Roberto Baggio.  Their performances won them fans and admirers worldwide.

In 1996 Nigeria produced a monumental upset to win the Olympics football tournament. They beat Argentina 3-2 in the final, after having disposed world champions 4-3 in the semi-final.  It was a remarkable victory for a remarkable team that seemed to become everyone’s second favorite team.

High expectations were placed on the team in 1998 and they started on fire, beating Spain 3-2 in a memorable match.  They reached the second round but were trounced 4-1 by a Brian Laudrup-inspired Denmark.

From then on, Nigerian football seems to have been in interminable decline.  They were eliminated in the first round of 2002, and failed to qualify for 2006.  In the African Cup of Nations, they have taken a liking to finishing third-place, doing so in 4 out of the last 5 tournaments. They did not look like they were going to qualify for this World Cup, and only did so thanks to Tunisia’s inexplicable failure to beat Mozambique in their last game.

Nwanku Kanu

Their team does not have as much quality as the wonderful 1994 and 1998 teams.  In defense, their best player is Everton’s Joseph Yobo, while in midfield, they have been dealt a massive blow with their best player and captain John Obi Mikel of Chelsea getting injured.  They’ll be counting on the talented Osaze Odemwingie to lead the team creatively from the wing. Attack is the team’s strongest suit: Everton’s Yakubu and Wolfsberg’s Martins should create problems for most defenses.  John Utaka and the veteran Nwanku Kanu are not bad as back-up. Kanu, incidentally, is a survivor of the 1990’s golden generation, and also a survivor of major heart disease that seemed destined to end his career in 1996.

Lars Lagerback, who was previously joint-coach of Sweden is the man in charge.  He tends to be an unspectacular but disciplined coach. For a group of players that plays all over the world, it’s good to have such a strict disciplinarian in charge.

Yakubu

Overall, there isn’t much to inspire excitement about this Nigeria side, but they could do well.  Much will depend on whether Lagerback can play to the team’s strengths and whether Yakubu and Martins are at their best.  They can likely make it out of their group, and will fancy their chances against any team from Group A in the second-round.

The Guardian’s team guide.

Zonal Marking’s tactical analysis.

Squad list with links to player profiles on Fifa.com Nigeria

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