Group B: Nigeria

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They might be the biggest nation in African football, but Nigeria are far from the best...

We’ve been here before. Far, far too often.

One in six Africans is Nigerian, Nigeria has as deep a passion for the game as any country in the world, and it has produced as many top-class players as any other African country, and yet once again they head into a major tournament in disarray.

Shaibu Amodu, specifically, has been here before. He was sacked as coach before the 2002 World Cup after leading Nigeria through qualifying and to third in the Cup of Nations, and he was sacked again in February – after leading Nigeria through qualifying and to third in the Cup of Nations.

“Obviously we went to Angola to win the Nations Cup,” says forward Chinedu Obasi. “We wanted to be the top team in Africa again, but things didn’t go according to plan. The World Cup has to be different for us because there is so much at stake. We know that we’ll have a tough job. We’re up against some tough teams like Argentina, with top players like Lionel Messi. It’s important for us to prove that we can play our own game against the best.”

This time, as Glenn Hoddle alleges he turned down the job after being asked to pay a bung, it is the former Sweden coach Lars Lagerback who is left to pick up the pieces and try somehow to form a coherent unit in a couple of warm-up games. Nothing in football is so sure as Nigeria’s ability to shoot themselves in the foot.

That Nigeria reached the semi-finals in Angola was a minor miracle brought about by the doughtiness of their defensive play. Although they will miss John Obi Mikel, Dickson Etuhu and Yusuf Ayila will shield a back four in which the central partnership of Danny Shittu and Joseph Yobo will be key.

Taye Taiwo offers attacking thrust and a ferocious shot from left-back – assuming he is recalled ahead of Elderson Echiejile of Rennes, who took his place in the later stages in Angola.

Besides missing Mikel's muscle, there is a chronic lack of flair about Nigeria’s midfield and front line. But by far the biggest problems for them are the debilitating politicking within the FA, and the constant pressure applied by a press corps seemingly unable to accept that the current generation is several levels below the side of Kanu, Jay-Jay Okocha, and Sunday Oliseh that won the Olympics so thrillingly in 1996.

Interesting fact
Indicative of their tendency to fluff their lines, Nigeria have appeared in the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations 13 times.

The Coach: Lars Lagerback
After 20 years working with various levels of the Sweden national team, taking over Nigeria will be a major culture shock for Lagerback. Working with Tommy Soderberg from 2000-04, and then as sole national coach, he led Sweden to the final stages of an unprecedented five straight international tournaments, but stood down after their failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup.

Key Player: Peter Odemwingie
If Nigeria are to have any impact on the World Cup, they need the best form possible from the winger – the one attacking spark in Angola.

Probable team (4-3-3): Enyeama; Mohamed, Yobo, Shittu, Taiwo; Ayila, Ideye, Etuhu; Obasi, Yakubu, Odemwingie

World Cup Talentspotter: More details on the players
Q&A: FFT interviews a player from every nation 

Argentina, June 12, 3pm, Johannesburg
Greece, June 17, 3pm, Mangaung/Bloemfontein
South Korea, June 22, 7.30pm, Durban

Qualified Top of CAF Group B
Mozambique (A) 0-0
Kenya (H) 3-0
Tunisia (A) 0-0
Tunisia (H) 2-2
Mozambique (H) 1-0
Kenya (A) 3-2

World Cup record
1994 2nd Round
1998 2nd Round
2002 1st Round

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