ANALYSING NIGERIA’S 2014 WORLD CUP SQUAD
In 1994 when Nigeria won the African nations cup, her continental stellar performance was replicated on the world stage at the world cup later that year. Perhaps it is apt to expect such trend at the 2014 world cup in Brazil. Some parallels can be drawn between both epochs; the eagles were African champions as they currently are and the 1994 world cup was hosted in the Americas (USA) as it would be again in Brazil. Most Nigerians however expect the Nigerian team to take their success in USA several notches forward. The world recently got a peek into what the Nigerian team in Brazil would look like, after Coach Stephen Keshi released a preliminary 30 man list.
The country is literally in safe hands with her first choice goal keeper, Vincent Enyeama. After his exploit at the 2010 world cup, many expected him to move to a bigger league. Although there were reports of interest from Arsenal as well as some other mid table clubs in England, Enyeama returned to his less glamorous club side in Israel. He has now gotten a chance to prove himself in the French league and almost toppled the French record of most minutes played without conceding a goal during the first half of the 2013/2014 season. He kept 11 consecutive clean sheets before finally conceding a goal after playing 1,062 minutes of football. This feat was 114 minutes shy of equalling Gaëtan Huard’s French league record, set in 1993. Enyeama is currently one of the best goal keepers in the French league and he is arguably one of the best in Europe. He conceded just 25 goals this season. Enyeama has a capable deputy in Austin Ejide, who has also proven his ability between the sticks when given the chance. Chigozie Agbim, who would probably make the cut ahead of Daniel Akpeyi, has shown occasional flashes of brilliance and moments of sloppiness.
Although the defence line does not have a natural right back, Efe Abrose has made the position his own. The Celtic fc central defender played at the right back at the 2013 African Cup Of Nations (AFCON) and he is expected to do same in Brazil. At over 6 feet tall, his height bellies the fantastic footwork uncommon among centre backs. He is a defender that loves to dribble and attack. He utilises space to execute his dribbles, and often drags the ball in field in order to find a pass. Efe’s strength is also his weakness, as his foray upfront leaves little time to recover when the opposition is on a counter attack. The partnership between Kenneth Omeruo and Godfrey Oboabona in the central defence would likely be retained by Stephen Keshi. Both players are young and their inexperience is adequately compensated by their will to truly defend. Omeruo brings a calming influence to the backline; while Godfrey is a work horse. Omeruo can also be used as a back-up right back when Ambrose is unavailable. The team captain, Joseph Yobo might make the final team because of experience, but his role at the world cup would likely be limited as it was at the AFCON. Despite a limited playing time at AS Monaco, Elderson Echiejile will be Nigeria’s first choice left back. Since displacing Taye Taiwo’s from the eagle’s left back, Elderson has continued to impress. Although he is not as good as Taiwo on the front foot, he is certainly better than him when the team is on the back foot. Only time will tell how long the preferred Monaco left back, Layvin Kurzawa, will hold the Nigerian off Ranieri’s starting eleven.
The Nigerian midfield is built around John Obi Mikel, whom the coach had allowed freedom to play in a more advanced role. Mikel surely has an eye for a good pass and also capable of an almost seamless ball retention. His major shortcoming is his lack of pace which might be important when the team needs a quick transition from defence to attack. Key to Mikel playing with greater freedom is the presence of a very mobile defensive midfielder, who can make up for hiss lack of pace. Ogenyi Onazi has since cemented his place as Mikel’s partner at the heart of the Nigerian team. Nimble, hardworking and not afraid of throwing himself into a challenge, the SS Lazio man will certainly play an important role for Nigeria at the world cup. There is however still a void in the midfield as the team is only presently structured to play a 4-2-3-1 formation. Key to the modern game is tactical flexibility and coach Keshi is undoubtedly aware of that. The absence of depth was conspicuous at the 2013 confederation’s cup when Onazi could not make the trip due to injury. The return of Joel Obi into the team might allow for some more flexibility and depth. Obi possesses all the qualities of Onazi and can easily serve as a backup player in case the Lazio player gets injured or carded. Besides being a backup player, Joel Obi can also play from the left in a 4-3-3 formation. The prospect of a 3 man midfield of Onazi, Mikel and Joel is enticing. Ramon Azeez and Sunday Mba will also provide the necessary depth and might even fancy their chance in the first eleven ahead of Joel. Nosa Igiebor will provide a creative option when Mikel is unavailable.
Keshi has opted for diversity in the front line; the pace and guile of Ahmed Musa and Victor Moses who usually operate on either side of the wings, the strength in Emanuel Emenike and height in Shola Ameobi. For the past 12 months Ahmed Musa and Victor Moses have made the flanks their own, however, the inclusion of 32 year old Peter Odemwigie will alter this equation. The likely casualty of his return would be Ahmed Musa. Odemwingie brings more than a decade of experience into the team, he is physically stronger than Musa, he packs tremendous shots on both feet and he is a better decision maker with the ball. Very few players in modern football are able to use both feet as effectively as Odemwingie, making it difficult for defenders to predict his movement. His ‘pedidexterity’ also provide options for the coach who may wish to play him on either side upfront or as the main striker. Victor Moses has a point to prove and the world cup provides him a platform to show the world that Chelsea and Liverpool are mistaken of his ability. Moses’ greatest assets are his pace and his ability to turn defenders. Musa is the paciest in the team and he is also a proven goal scorer for CSKA Moscow. Both players are regrettably deficient in their decision making in the final third of the opponent. Victor Obinna would be a reliable fall back option for the team. Obinna can also shoot with both feet; he still needs more work on his shots which can be any goalkeeper’s nightmare if they can be delivered with greater precision.
Hailed as the next Rashidi Yekini, Emmanuel Emenike is Keshi’s preferred striker. Emenike is a striker in the mould of Didier Drogba—he is a handful for defenders. He is fast and defenders should expect a rough time with him. He is a prolific goal scorer with a goal ratio of one in two games for the national team, Fernabache, Spartak Moscow and Karabukspor. Shola Ameobi provides a different dimension to Nigeria’s attacking option, with his aerial power and Odemwingie also provide another dimension to front line.
Michel Babatunde, Michael Uchebo, Nnamdi Oduamadi, Gabriel Reuben and Uche Nwofor will fancy their chance at the world cup, but they will first have to avoid the team’s downsizing prior to the tournament. Some of the three outfield home based players, Ejike Uzoenyi, Azubuike Egwueke and Kunle Odunlami, might also make the cut on the strength of their previous performances for team.