Majority of the players from the Super Eagles’ 2014 World Cup side have changed. Indeed, of the team which started against France in the round of 16 in Brazil, only five are involved in the present squad, with just two of them starters. German coach Gernot Rohr has steadily built a new and young team of players that would mostly be having their first feel of the World Cup in Russia.
Qualifying for the 2018 World Cup from a ‘Group of Death’ that had Cameroon, Zambia and Algeria were heartwarming for the country’s teeming football populace, beating Argentina was assuring, but unconvincing results in recent friendlies ahead of the Mundial has elicited mixed reactions.
Nigeria has never reached the World Cup quarter-finals in five previous attempts since the Eagles debuted at US ‘94, reaching the last 16 on two occasions (1994, 1998, 2014) and crashing out from the group stage twice (2002, 2010).
Can this present squad break the quarter-final jinx in Russia? Rohr’s side sure has a tough task on their hands, no doubt.
Below, is the country’s 23-man squad, who will compete in Group D against two-time winners Argentina, Croatia and Iceland:
1 – Ikechukwu Ezenwa
The number one after Carl Ikeme fell ill, Ezenwa was seen as the sure man between the sticks until a younger, taller and Europe-based Francis Uzoho emerged from the blues. The Enyimba keeper had a decent outing during the qualifiers, conceding two goals in four games but Ezenwa will have to play second fiddle in Russia, as Rohr seems to have stuck his head out for Uzoho as his number one man.
2 – Brian Idowu
Amkar Perm left-back Idowu had a dream debut scoring against Argentina last November and has virtually claimed the left-back position ever since. Though his mistake, a failed clearance, led to England’s second goal, he posted an above per outing on the evening, winning balls and then helping the attack.
Against the Czech Republic, he didn’t provide much support for the attack. But he looks a starter in Russia. Born in Saint Petersburg to a Nigerian father and a Russian-Nigerian mother, Idowu would come in handy for the side on-and-off the pitch during the World Cup. During last the friendly against the Argentines in Krasnodar, he served as the Eagles interpreter.
3 – Elderson Echiejile
Echiejile was at the 2010 World Cup but after being included in Stephen Keshi’s squad for the 2014 edition, he sustained an injury in a warm-up game against Greece and had to be replaced by Ejike Uzoenyi.
His experience perhaps might come in handy for the squad, but the 30-year-old Cercle Brugge left-back has largely warmed the bench since Idowu’s dazzling debut and further fine outings. He came on versus Czech and tried to help the attack.
4 – Wilfred Ndidi
Ndidi was Nigeria’s most consistent player in the top European leagues before he copped an injury towards the end of last season, which sparked fears in the heart of the country’s football faithful ahead of the World Cup.
After being left out in the friendlies against DR Congo and England, he returned to the team on Wednesday and his importance came to the fore again as he was involved in several ball-winning battles and setting up the attack with some eye-catching passes.
5 – William Troost-Ekong
Troost-Ekong opted for Nigeria in 2015 after representing the Netherlands at youth levels. He’s formed a close relationship with defensive partner Leon Balogun, which has made fans nickname the duo Oyinbo Wall. One of the sure bets for a starting role barring any issues, the Turkey-based defender overcame first-half pressure to coordinate the defence against the Three Lions. He had a relatively quiet game versus Czech in Rohr’s experimental 3-5-2 formation.
6 – Leon Balogun
The new Brighton signing had a tough time trying to curtail Harry Kane and had to be substituted immediately after the break. But he was solid at the back, blocking shots and intercepting passes against the Czechs.
Born to a Nigerian father and German mother, Balogun would rather forget his Eagles debut in 2014 in a friendly against Mexico in a hurry. The 29-year-old was injured after 20 minutes in a collision with signage on the touchline, which ended his chances of making that year’s World Cup squad.
7 – Ahmed Musa
Musa returned to old club CSKA Moscow in January on a six-month loan deal from Leicester City, after being left out of the former English champions’ first team. And the speedy winger was in the rich vein of form for the Russian side, scoring six times in 15 games.
However, he’s been largely a shadow of himself with the Eagles since joining the team for the World Cup. His pace was a threat to England when he came on as a substitute but failed to make good use of it.
Musa made his 70th appearance for the Eagles against the Czechs, coming on for Victor Moses in the 80th minute but he had another anonymous outing. He scored twice against Argentina at the 2014 World Cup.
8 – Oghenekaro Etebo
Since his January loan switch from Portuguese side Feirense to Las Palmas in La Liga, Etebo has caught the eye with his improved showings where his explosiveness and physicality have caught the eye, especially in the game against Barcelona.
The midfielder had an impressive showing against England after he was introduced to stabilize a non-existent midfield following a disappointing first-half showing by the Eagles.
Rohr deployed the 22-year-old in an unfamiliar anchor-man role, taking the place of vice-captain Ogenyi Onazi, who endured a miserable first 45 minutes. And Etebo’s energy and mobility helped calm things down when introduced at the restart. His strong showing allowed the more offensive Mikel Obi and Alex Iwobi to express themselves.
He recorded 409 touches in comparison to Onazi and Mikel’s 361 and 386 touches respectively.
9 – Odion Ighalo
Ighalo was named Chinese Super League player of the month for April when he scored four goals in one match as Changchun Yatai beat Guizhou Hengfeng 5-2 in a league fixture, but his goal drought for the Eagles continue, which has extended to six games after he failed to hit the target against the Czechs.
Against England, he was left wandering in the first half without any service but he held up play well in the second half after the midfield came to life and hit the post before Alex Iwobi converted from the rebound.
He had a better game with more support from Victor Moses and Iwobi against the Czech Republic and was denied twice by good saves from the Czech keeper.
The striker last scored for Nigeria in the Eagles 4-0 win over Cameroon in the qualifiers in Uyo in 2017.
10 – John Mikel Obi
Captain Mikel is the engine room, the star man and the leader of the young team. He played a key role in the qualifiers and even sneaked in a goal in the 4-0 defeat of African champions Cameroon.
He reportedly promised President Muhammadu Buhari that the team would return from Russia with the World Cup trophy but he’s had a bitter-sweet tale with the team in the preparatory games ahead of the Mundial.
Against England, he failed to control the game especially in the first half but got better in the second, keeping possession with good passes. Against the Czechs, his distribution was almost flawless and linked up well with both Moses and Iwobi.
11 – Victor Moses
The Chelsea man was Nigeria’s top scorer in the qualifiers with four goals. Moses plays as a forward for the Eagles despite his club role as a wing back, and he has done a great job in both positions for both club and country.
He was a menace to the Polish defenders during the pre-World Cup friendly in March. After he was brought down in the Polish area, the 27-year-old dusted himself up to convert the penalty that sealed the win for the Eagles to cap a fine outing.
But against England, he failed to create any clear-cut chance for the team, as he laboured all day. He had a better game versus the Czechs, with good dribbling and dangerous crosses. He’s done a poor job of taking the team’s free kicks.
12 – Shehu Abdullahi
The Turkey-based defender was Rohr’s first choice at right-back during the qualifiers but after some unconvincing showing recently, the German coach might look the way of the more enterprising Tyronne Ebuehi.
Shehu had a hell of time keeping out Ashley Young against England, was poor in marking and lost possession easily before he was pulled off for Ebuehi. He was a shade better against the Czechs with his tackles, but his passes were poor.
13 – Simeon Nwankwo
Hard work and luck define Nwankwo’s journey to the World Cup. The Crotone striker caught the eye with an overhead kick goal against Juventus and Rohr promptly handed him his debut against DR Congo last month. He had a decent outing and he’s Russia bound! The 22-year-old missed the England game but was full of energy in the 20 minutes he featured against the Czechs.
14 – Kelechi Iheanacho
Just like at Leicester City, where he falls behind Jermain Vardy in the pecking order, Iheanacho is also preferred as second choice to Ighalo by Rohr. He’s been deployed too late in the recent friendlies for him to be properly assessed.
15 – Joel Obi
After a career that has largely been blighted by injuries, Obi is going to his first World Cup but the returning Lazio midfielder has lost the creative impetus he normally provided the Eagles on his heyday. Indeed, how he made the World Cup team still baffles fans of the game. Against Poland, he wasn’t assertive, and against England, it was same story.
16 – Daniel Akpeyi
Akpeyi has never grabbed the opportunity to establish himself as the number one goalkeeper whenever given. In his last appearance, the Chippa United man’s expensive error led to Argentina’s first goal after handling the ball outside his area in November’s friendly. Before then, he had also put up below average performance as South Africa defeated their bitter rivals in Uyo in an AFCON qualifier last year.
17 – Ogenyi Onazi
Onazi’s inclusion in the final squad to Russia raised eyebrows with keen followers of the country’s game questioning his inclusion in the team. The Eagles star of the 2014 World Cup, Onazi’s form has dipped considerably, and has seen him post some horrible performances recently. The Eagles vice-captain was disastrous against the Three Lions and had a hand in the Englishmen’s two goals; he lost possession too easily on several occasions; his tackles were not well timed and it caused the total collapse of the team’s midfield in the opening half of the game. He apologised to Nigerians but it seemed Rohr’s not impressed and dropped him for the Czech game.
18 – Alex Iwobi
Arsenal’s Iwobi has been the creative spark in an otherwise unenterprising Eagles side in their last three games. He was Nigeria’s best performer against the English and scored the consolation. He had another fine outing against the Czechs with his dribbles and incisive runs. Iwobi, who grabbed the goal that sealed World Cup qualification, is daring, ready to take responsibilities even though he’s not one of the senior players in the team. The Eagles will need him to deliver the goods in Russia, no doubt.
19 – John Ogu
Ogu missed the last Mundial by a whisker but the 30-year-old has been handed another chance by Rohr to appear at the Mundial.
The big midfielder came on against England after the break and helped stabilize the midfield for the Eagles as Rohr switched from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2 and perhaps nicked a World Cup place in the process.
Playing in an unfamiliar role against the Czechs, Ogu carried out his defensive duties well from the left side of a three-man defence, covering up for Balogun and Troost-Ekong, and made up for his lack of pace with some good positioning and reading of the game.
20 – Chidozie Awaziem
Centre-back Awaziem’s inclusion in Rohr’s final squad was met with strong criticisms with some arguing that the centre-back, who was on loan at Nantes last season, had never been up to scratch in national colours. Last year, Awaziem had an awful competitive Eagles debut when Tokelo Rantie ran him ragged over and over again as Bafana Bafana claimed a painful first-ever win over the Eagles.
Rohr has kept faith with him but the Porto man has failed to grab the opportunity and has had to bide his time on the bench. Against Serbia, Awaziem’s only shiny light was perhaps his tinted hair, as he was taught some footballing lessons by Aleksandar Mitrovic, whose brace gave the Serbs a deserved 2-0 win.
21 – Tyronne Ebuehi
Born in the Netherlands to a Nigerian father and a Dutch mother, Ebuehi pledged his international future to Nigeria and made his Eagles debut against Togo in 2017. The new Benfica signing has been in exciting form in the Eagles’ last two friendlies with his overlapping runs down the right and was unlucky to have been denied a penalty against the Czechs on one of his forays up front. The 22-year-old has a quick recovery rate and would definitely give Shehu a strong fight for the starting role at right-back.
22 – Kenneth Omeruo
Omeruo’s won major international honours and played against some of the world’s best players: Didier Drogba, Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Javier Hernandez amongst others. But he’s struggled to reproduce the form he showed for Nigeria at U-20 level for the Eagles and has been unable to play a single game for Chelsea since he joined the Blues in 2012. He played at the last World Cup but he’s not been able to assert himself in the middle of the defence, where the Oyinbo Wall has held sway.
23 – Francis Uzoho
For those who feel providence has played a key role in Uzoho’s emergence as Rohr’s favoured man between the sticks, they may not be wrong after all.
In 2013, he was clearly not in the picture for a spot on the Golden Eaglets squad to the 2013 U-17 World Cup in the UAE, having not played in the African qualifiers for the tournament. But then after three other keepers, who were favoured ahead of him, failed the MRI test, he was listed on the team that would eventually win the tournament.
Same also applied to his emergence in the Eagles set-up. After just two La Liga appearances for Deportivo La Coruna, the 19-year-old got his chance as a 45th-minute substitute for Akpeyi in the international friendly against Argentina in Krasnodar. And he didn’t concede as the Eagles ran out 4-2 winners.
He’s gone on to feature in five additional games, conceding six goals but he’s had to face criticisms from a section of the country’s football-crazy populace, who prefer the more experienced Ezenwa. But the 6ft 5in tall keeper has shown tremendous improvement and confidence having been given personal training by the Eagles technical staff.
Uzoho has shown nice footwork, good reflexes, and a solid aerial presence in the build-up to the World Cup. Against England, he let Kane’s shot slip through his hands for the Three Lions second goal. But against the Czechs, he had a solid performance; he was impressive with a couple of saves, dealt better with set-pieces and commanded his area.
Source: The Punch
Teranga Lions of Senegal lift African Spirits
Senegal’s Teranga Lions made Africans here in Moscow proud on Tuesday evening with a 2-1 defeat of Poland at the Spartak Stadium in their opening Group H match.
Africans at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia have been wearing forlorn faces after four of their five teams lost.
But Senegal gave signs of making the difference by holding their own before the 44,190 crowd who were witnessing a match fought from end to end in the opening minutes.
The Poles did hold the advantage in possession though, but after a neat move in the 37th minute, Senegal opened scoring. Idrissa Gueye’s shot was deflected in by Thiago Cionek to give the Lions a deserved lead.
Senegal knew what they needed to do thereafter, holding off Poland to take their advantage into the second half, when they tightened the back and still surged forward on the break. Midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak was soon to make a costly error, playing a high, aimless back pass.
Striker M’Baye Niang controlled the ball ahead of an advancing goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny before tapping into an empty net. Krychowiak however pulled a goal back in the 86th minute with a header from Kamil Grosicki’s free-kick but Senegal held on.
Poland are the group’s highest-ranked side at number eight, but they struggled to create further chances with a free-kick from captain Robert Lewandowski one of just four shots on target. Senegal who are making only their second World Cup appearance now lead the group ahead of Japan, who beat Colombia 1-0 earlier on Tuesday.
Senegal’s victory has now become a breath of fresh air for Africa since Friday when Egypt lost their opening Group A match to Uruguay at Ekaterinburg. The Egyptians had lost to a Jose Gimenez 89th minute goal, and since then three other African teams have lost their opening group games.
Hours after Egypt’s loss, Morocco lost 0-1 to Iran at Saint Petersburg in a Group B match, through Aziz Bouhaddouz’s own goal in the fifth minute of added time. Nigeria worsened the situation by losing 0-2 to Croatia at Kaliningrad on Saturday in Group D, through an Oghenekaro Etebo own goal and a Luka Modric penalty kick.
Tunisia went on to add to Africans’ misery on Monday by losing 1-2 to England in Group G at Volgograd. They gave the game away in the first minute of added time when Harry Kane completed his brace with the winning goal. Egypt face hosts Russia later on Tuesday in their second Group A game needing victory to stay on in the competition.
On Wednesday, Morocco too will be facing Portugal in a Group B match at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow needing a win to stay on. Nigeria are playing on Friday at Volgograd, also needing to win to stay on from Group D.
Source: The Vanguard
Super Eagles World Cup in numbers
As the Super Eagles prepare for the first match of their sixth appearance at the FIFA World Cup in Russia, Goal gives an account of Nigeria’s outing in the competition’s history in numbers.
1- The number of red cards received by any Nigerian player since making their debut in 1994. Sani Kaita was sent off in the 33rd minute against Greece in 2010.
2 – The number of goals scored by Kalu Uche, Daniel Amokachi and Emmanuel Amuneke who are Nigeria’s joint highest goalscorers at the World Cup.
3 – The number of times Nigeria have drawn a game at the group stages of the competition –a goalless draw against England in 2002; a 2-2 draw against South Korea in 2010 and in the goalless draw with Iran in 2014.
4 – The number of times Nigeria have faced Argentina. They will meet in Russia for a record fifth time.
4 – This number also represents the most goals conceded in a single match by Nigeria at the Mundial. The Eagles were spanked 4-1 by Denmark in a second-round encounter in 1998.
5 – The number of games Nigeria have won at five World Cups. The Eagles have lost 10 matches.
5 – The number of victories over European countries by the Eagles. They defeated Bulgaria and Greece in 1994, Spain and Bulgaria in 1998 and Bosnia in 2014.
7- Most goals scored in a tournament–achieved in 1994 where the Eagles found the back of the net seven times in four games.
8 – The number of minutes when Samson Siasia scored Nigeria’s fastest World Cup goal. It was against Argentina in 1994.
10 -The most appearances made by a Nigerian player in World Cup games. Joseph Yobo played 10 matches in three World Cups.
15 – The number of times Nigeria failed to make it to the World Cup since 1930.
17- Femi Opabunmi is the youngest-ever Nigerian to have represented the country at 17 years, three months and nine days.
18 – The number of matches Nigeria have played at the World Cup, making them the second-highest playing African country in the history of the competition after Cameroon.
20 – Julius Aghahowa is the youngest Nigerian player to score at the World Cup at the age of 20 years and four months.
Source: The Punch
Russia World Cup: Lionel Messi wary of Super Eagles
Lionel Messi has admitted that though the current Nigerian team is ‘unknown’ to him and his Argentina side, the Super Eagles physicality could make them very difficult to beat when both teams clash in their final Group D game at the 2018 World Cup.
Argentina and Nigeria are scheduled to meet for the fifth time at the World Cup in Saint Petersburg on the June 26 with Nigeria yet to record a win over the La Albiceleste in their last four games at the in 1994, 2002, 2010 and 2014.
Both teams will also face Iceland and Croatia in Group D.
“Our challenge is to be champions,” Messi told UK tabloid, Express.co.uk.
“We know it won’t be easy but I’m certain that Argentina has a squad capable of being a champion in Russia. If the players all believe the same then we can be contenders.
“If Argentina goes out there and plays as we know we can then it will be very difficult to beat us. We have experienced World Cups before and we know that every rival will come out to try and beat us and play the game as if it is a final. That always makes it more complicated. But we are used to it.”
“It will be important to start strongly. Iceland did well in their last tournament so the first match will not be comfortable. But these are the ones to win if you don’t want the next matches to be even more complicated.
“Croatia is a good team with players in the big European leagues and that makes them dangerous. We don’t know so much about Nigeria but the African teams are normally compact, tough and strong. So it will be no walkover.”
He also played down talks of him retiring from international football after the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
“I don’t want to speak about my future. For now, I’m only concerned about the present and doing the best I can in this World Cup.”
Source: The Punch
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