The Nigeria national football team represents Nigeria in international
association football and is controlled by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF). They are three time Africa Cup of Nations winners and are also known as the “Super Eagles of Nigeria”. The ‘Super Eagles’ have made five appearances in the World Cup till date, and will make their 6th appearance at the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup, Russia
● Squad Analysis :
○ Nigeria squad :
Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (Deportivo La Coruna), Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Enyimba), Daniel Akpeyi (Chippa United).
Defenders: William Troost-Ekong and Abdullahi Shehu (Bursaspor), Tyronne Ebuehi (Ado Den Haag), Elderson Echiejile (Cercle Brugge KSV), Bryan Idowu (Amkar Perm), Chidozie Awaziem (Nantes FC), Leon Balogun (Brighton), Kenneth Omeruo (Kasimpasa).
Midfielders: Mikel John Obi (Tianjin Teda), Ogenyi Onazi (Trabzonspor), Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City), Oghenekaro Etebo (Las Palmas), John Ogu (Hapoel Be’er Sheva), Joel Obi (Torino, Italy).
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow), Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Simeon Nwankwo (Crotone).
Arsenal midfielder Alex Iwobi has been named in Nigeria’s 23-man squad for the World Cup in Russia. The 21-year-old scored in the 2-1 friendly defeat by England at Wembley on Saturday.
Chelsea winger Victor Moses and Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa have also been included in Gernot Rohr’s squad. Rohr has dropped Ola Aina and Mikel Agu, from the players that travelled to London to play the Three Lions yesterday.
“It’s Ola Aina and Mikel Agu. They will be on standby. We go with 23 players to Russia; if there is another problem or injury like happened four years ago when Elderson was injured, they will be on standby for that,” Rohr told KweséESPN on Sunday.
Nigeria will face Czech Republic in their next warm up game on Wednesday, before heading out to Russia.
The Eagles get their 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign underway in two weeks’ time against Croatia on June 16.
○ Probable Formations :
The Super Eagles of Nigeria has lined up in three several formations under Coach Gernot Rohr. The team lines up in a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 5-3-2 and 3-5-2 formations.
The 4-3-3 formation sometimes changes to 3-4-3. During the World Cup qualifiers, the Eagles thrived when utilising the 4-3-3 system, with Victor Moses, Moses Simon, Shehu Abdullahi, Alex Iwobi and Oghenekaro Etebo having the freedom to venture forward.
However, the three-man defence adopted against Argentina allowed for stability and attacking trident, with Tyrone Ebuehi, Brian Idowu and Kelechi Iheanacho proving their mettle in the 4-2 victory.
The team has the technical ability and personnel to excel with any of the tactics.
Francis Uzoho, William Troost Ekong, Leon Balogun, Brian Idowu, Shehu Abdullahi, Wilfred Ndidi, Ogenyi Onazi, John Ogu, Victor Moses, Odion Jude Ighalo, and Moses Simon.
Abdullahi, Mikel, Ndidi, Ogu, Moses
Balogun, Troost-Ekong, Idowu,
Abdullahi, Mikel, Ndidi, Obi, Moses, Iwobi, Ighalo
● Team Rating :
○ Goalkeeping :
One position that continues to ensure Nigerian football fans break out in cold sweat is who would man the posts for the Eagles in Russia? It took the releases of the 30-man provisional squad to douse the strident calls for Vincent Enyeama’s recall.
While many, especially commentators on the Nigeria Professional Football League [NPFL] want Enyimba’s Ikechukwu Ezenwa to start because of his good showing during the qualifiers, every other index points at Francis Uzoho being the man [though 19] favoured by Rohr.
The verdict would be that the German manager is doing all he can to create synergy between Uzoho and the likeliest central defensive pairing of Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong.
○ Defence :
With the exception of Elderson Echiéjilé, the defensive players are young and raw. Few have big-time experience. This is probably the team’s weakness, a shaky goalkeeper and inexperienced young defence, the task of making sure the team doesn’t up much spaces at the lies at the midfield
Nigeria’s midfield is the probably the best thing about them, Composure and solidity in midfield, plus direct running up front from Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho, suggests a team that could cause trouble on the breaks. Captain John Obi Mikel has bags of experience and presence in central midfield, Central midfielder Wilfred Ndidi was brought by Leicester for the impossible task of replacing N’Golo Kante,Ndidi has lived up to expectation at Leicester City and the Super Eagles. He is young and agile. Although yet to hit full fitness after a groin injury, he is expected to provide solidity in Rohr’s midfield in front of the centre backs at the World Cup.
• Rating: 7.5/10
○ Attack :
Chelsea’s Victor Moses, perhaps has the x-factor to make a difference upfront. The Super Eagles have not been found wanting in attack. At least so far. But there is this feeling that the squad still lacks a prolific pointman who can be relied upon to supply the goals in tight matches against high-quality opposition.
Under Gernot Rohr’s guidance, the Super Eagles have often played the 4-3-3 system with two wide forwards supporting the centre forward.
Rohr played Odion Ighalo, Kelechi Iheanacho, Brown Ideye and Anthony Nwakaeme as the centre forwards in the qualifying campaign for the Russia 2018 World Cup.
Although Nigeria breezed through a supposedly tough qualifying group that contained Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia, none of the strikers scored more than twice. Iheanacho scored two goals, Ighalo scored once, while the others did not get on the scoresheet.
Instead, it was wide forward Victor Moses who scored three goals, while Moses Simon and Alex Iwobi added two each. Even central midfielder Mikel Obi scored twice. Crotone starlet Simeon Nwankwo was included in the final list for the World Cup after his fine performances this season, and the super Eagles will be hoping for a big surprise from him to help the team advance further in the competition.
• Rating: 7.5/10
○ Overall Rating : 6.5/10
● Past Record in World Cup :
*1994 World Cup*
Nigeria’s first appearance at the World Cup was in 1994 after years of struggling to get there. They were managed by Clemens Westerhof. Nigeria topped their group which included Argentina , Bulgaria , and
Greece . Nigeria defeated Bulgaria 3–0, lost to Argentina 1–2, and reached the second round after a 2–0 victory over Greece. In the second round Nigeria played Italy and took the lead with a goal from Emmanuel Amunike at 25 minutes. Nigeria were within two minutes of qualifying for the Quarter-finals, but Roberto Baggio scored to take the game to extra time. He also scored the eventual winning goal. The game ended 2–1 in favour of the Italians.
*1998 World Cup*
In 1998 , Nigeria returned to the World Cup alongside Cameroon, Morocco ,
Tunisia , and South Africa. Optimism was high due to its manager Bora Milutinović and the return of most 1994 squad members. In the final tournament Nigeria were drawn into group D with Spain, Bulgaria , Paraguay. Nigeria scored a major upset by defeating Spain 3–2 after coming back twice from being 1–0 and 2–1 down. The Eagles qualified for the second round with a win against Bulgaria and a loss to Paraguay. The team’s hopes of surpassing its 1994 performance was shattered after a 1–4 loss to Denmark.
*2002 and 2006 World Cups*
The 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan saw Nigeria again qualify with optimism. With a new squad and distinctive pastel green kits, the Super Eagles were expected to build on its strong performances in the 2000 and
2002 African Cup of Nations. Nigeria were drawn into group F with powerhouses Sweden , Argentina , and
England . The first game against Argentina started with a strong defence that kept the first half scoreless. In the 61st minute, Gabriel Batistuta breached the Nigerian defence to put Argentina in the lead 1–0, and Argentina would go on to win the game. Nigeria’s second game against Sweden saw them take the lead but later lose 2–1. Nigeria then drew 0–0 with England and bowed out in the first round.
Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup after finishing level on points in the qualification group with
Angola, but having an inferior record in the matches between the sides.
*2010 World Cup*
On 14 November 2009, Nigeria qualified for the 2010 World Cup after defeating Kenya by 3–2 in Nairobi. Nigeria lost its opening match against
Argentina 1–0 at Ellis Park Stadium following a controversial Gabriel Heinze header in the 6th minute. In its second game Nigeria led early on by a goal from Kalu Uche. A red card against Sani Kaita gave
Greece the advantage. Greece scored the equaliser late in the first half and Nigeria conceded the second goal in the second half and lost the game 2–1. In their last group stage match against
South Korea , Nigeria took an early lead in the 12th minute off of a great finish by Kalu Uche after a low cross from
Chidi Odiah . However, goals from Lee Jung-Soo and Park Chu-Young gave South Korea a 2–1 lead, which looked to be enough for South Korea to advance into the round of 16. However, Nigeria got a chance in the 66th minute that the Super Eagles will probably never forget. On the end of a pass from
Ayila Yussuf that was fed through the South Korean defense was none other than Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Once the pass found Yakubu’s foot about four yards away from the empty goal, Yakubu pushed the ball wide of the left post to keep South Korea ahead 2–1. Three minutes later, Yakubu was able to calmly finish a penalty to knot the score at two apiece, but the damage was done as Nigeria was unable to score again and the match ended in a 2–2 draw. With this result, Nigeria was eliminated from the 2010 World Cup with just one point, while South Korea advanced into the round of 16 with four points. On 30 June 2010, following the team’s early exit and poor showing, the then President of Nigeria , Goodluck Jonathan suspended the national football team from international competition for two years. This suspension put the team at risk of being banned from international football by FIFA for reasons of political interference.
Nigeria’s campaign in the 2014 FIFA World Cup opened with a disappointing 0–0 draw against Iran . Four days later the team played their second game against Bosnia and Herzegovina . A 29th-minute Emmanuel Emenike ‘s controversial goal gave Nigeria their first World Cup win since 1998. They faced Argentina some days later : a 3rd minute Lionel Messi goal for the opposition was followed almost instantly with an equalizer by Ahmed Musa. Messi gave Argentina the lead back just before half-time. In the second half Musa leveled the game out again, Lionel Messi was substituted and handed over his captaincy to
Marcos Rojo only for Rojo to put Argentina 3–2 ahead minutes later.
Nigeria lost the match, but still qualified for the round of 16. In the Round of 16 Nigeria faced France , an 18th-minute stabbed shot from
Emmanuel Emenike saw the ball in the net, past the French goal-keeper but the goal was ruled off-side by the linesman. Nigeria held them off until the 79th minute when a cross and a
Paul Pogba header gifted France the lead. An accidental own goal by Super Eagles Captain Joseph Yobo in injury time put the result beyond any doubt: Nigeria was out. This is the third time Nigeria is eliminated in the round of 16 and they were not still able to enter the Quarter-finals in the FIFA World Cup .
● Recent Form :
The Super Eagles’ last big win came against a Messi-less Argentine side, also scraping through a 1-0 against Poland, but lost to Serbia, drew with Dr Congo and lost recently to England. Albeit the friendlies, the Super Eagles were in fine form during the World Cup qualifiers, not losing a single match and beat the likes of Cameroon and Algeria to qualify.
● Coach/Manager’s Quotes :
Gernot Rohr is optimistic that an African team will qualify for the semifinals of the World Cup for the first time in history.
He said: “Absolutely, I believe we will love Russia, do a good job. As for Nigeria, I think getting out of the group will be a great success, one must not forget that we are still 47th in the FIFA ranking.”
The Super Eagles’ coach Gernot Rohr has played down the national team’s chances of reaching the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup, arguing that they are not among the top ranked African teams,“I’ll refer to FIFA again. We are only sixth best ranked African team. And we have to do a lot more to be the best on the continent,” said Rohr to Sportske Novosti. The coach also spoke after the friendly against Poland, “This team is a young team but also a team of leaders. If we stay humble and continue to work hard to improve our play we have huge potentials, but beating 2 FIFA top 10 teams in friendlies doesn’t mean we are now World Cup favourites.”
● Writer’s Take :
The Super Eagles are the lowest-ranked of the African teams and looks unlikely to get out of a tough group. Rohr harped on the fact that Nigeria need to start well in their first game.
“It’s the first game and if we start well we can have a chance to go through. Croatia will be the most important game because they have technical quality and play very good football. I played with Bogdan at Hadjuk Split and I know that Croatian players are quick and technically very strong. At the moment, they are one of the best teams in Europe and beat Greece 4-1 in the play-offs so we have to be prepared and ready for them”.
Setting up the formation in a good way will ensure they have a high chance to qualify, The major attacking conundrum for Rohr has been how to accommodate Kelechi Iheanacho in his starting 11 but not as the main striker. Against the Congo DR last Monday in Port Harcourt, the Leicester City man played behind the main striker – Simeon Nwankwo.
Against Argentina last November, Iheanacho played with Alex Iwobi as a front two as Rohr experimented with a 3-5-2 formation. The strategy floundered in the first half but the team rallied in the second half to blitz the Argentines.
Also creating goal scoring chance have also been a big problem for the super Eagles, Just as England have found it hard to score – in their last six matches, the Three Lions have mustered three goals while the Nigerians have scored eight – four in the match against Argentina.
Since that uplifting win against Lionel Messi-less Argentina, the Super Eagles have not been up to scratch, especially in creating goal-scoring chances. Against Poland, which the Eagles won 1-0, had no shot on target and against Serbia, that pattern repeated itself even though they had three shots on target, they did not create any notable danger for the polish goalkeeper, Vladimir Stojkovic.
Is the bench good enough to replace the first team? At the last World Cup in Brazil, FIFA’s Study Group reveled that, “The squad, who also needed top-class substitutes who accepted their situation and were able to slot seamlessly into the team shape after coming on to make a difference in the game.”
Will the likes of John Ogu, Ahmed Musa, etc. be ready to make the difference when they are called upon? Will the Eagles not suffer if Mikel Obi gets injured or gets two yellow cards in consecutive matches?
How has the boys prepared mentally for this World Cup? The betting odds do not favour the Super Eagles. It is largely assumed they stand no chance against Argentina and Croatia particularly.
Do the players have a contrary view? Do they believe they can give as well as they will get and triumph against better-rated teams? Rohr will understand his players much better after the England encounter.
If the coach and his players sort out this problems, then there’s a likelihood they might be the surprise package in this World Cup. I predict them to make the knock out stages though.