The most populous African country by some way, Nigeria’s high expectations start with advancing from Africa to the FIFA World Cup™ finals, and they have proven themselves adept at doing just that by reaching four of the last five events. The only exception was in 2006, when they paid for their lack of concentration by losing out on a place in Germany to Angola, a shock to the football-mad nation. With nerves jangled, Nigeria were tentative in qualifying for 2010. In the end, they were luckier than they had been four years before, but there was no question that they limped across the finish line. After drawing three of their first four matches in the final qualifying stage, Nigeria were against the ropes, but they were fortunate in the last round of matches to see Tunisia lose, while the Super Eagles showed all of their resolve to come from behind twice to win a wild 3-2 match in Kenya.
FIFA World Cup finals history
After impressing on their way to the second round in each of their first two FIFA World Cup appearances, 1994 and 1998, Nigeria have struggled since: going out at the group stage three times while taking just two points from their last eight matches in the finals. A muddled South Africa 2010 campaign under Lars Lagerback did little to bolster Nigeria’s reputation, but Brazil 2014 offers another chance for the Super Eagles to soar.
The current crop
Surely no side on the continent can overlook the track record of the Super Eagles, nor their rich pool of star players in waiting. They have been criticised for not dealing with the pressure on their shoulders sufficiently, but after triumphing at the 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations this new generation of players have surely disproved that notion and will be one of the favourites to progress.
The key players
At South Africa 2010, goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama proved himself once again invaluable in net, while AC Milan’s Taye Taiwo offers plenty of firepower from the left back position. Jon Obi Mikel should be the lynchpin in the green-clad midfield, and the attack can call on a range of promising options.
Coach: Stephen Keshi
Best performances in a FIFA competition: FIFA World Cup USA 1994, France 1998 (Round of 16), FIFA U-17 World Cup China 1985, Japan 1993, Korea Republic 2007 (Winners), Olympic Football Tournament Atlanta 1996 (Winners), FIFA U-20 World Cup Saudi Arabia 1989, Netherlands 2005 (Runners-up)
Former stars: Jay Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Rashidi Yekini