ROAD TO KOREA/JAPAN
|Nigeria battled hard with Liberia for the
top position in CAF group 2. Qualification was secured in the very last game
after Liberia suffered an unexpected defeat against Ghana.
here for details
|Participations: (2) 1994 and 1998
|Best placing: Second round 1994 and 1998
|Topscorers: Daniel Amokachi and
Emmanuel Amunike, 2 goals.
detailed history information
|Nwankwo Kanu is still not older
than 25, but many people feel he has been around for ages. Being one of the tallest
players in the professional game today, he is remarkably skillful with the ball
at his feet. Kanu needs to be at his brilliant best for Nigeria to advance out of
VERDICT: First round exit
|Nigeria disappointed in the African Nations Cup and won't
achieve a top two position in this group unless they improve drastically. Their route to the World Cup was bumpy as well.
The team is loaded with talented players, but getting them to work well as a unit has
been a problem. Their unpredictability is their strongest weapon, but we believe Nigeria's World Cup is over after three games.
THE NOT SO SUPER EAGLES
by Matthew Monk
Something is not quite right with the Super Eagles.
The roadshow of expectancy that surrounds everyone's
favourite African team is still there. The crazy fans
painted one half green and one half white are there as
well. So are the amazingly talented, unpolished stars
Nigeria have been exporting around the world for a
decade or more. Kanu is still around. So is Jay-Jay
Okocha, and Sunday Oliseh, and Taribo West, and
Finidi. In fact all the superstars from Atlanta and
France 98 are still around. And they are all reaching
their footballing primes at the same time. This
should be their World Cup.
So why was the coach that brought them to Japan,
beaten only once in eighteen games - and feared by
England, Argentina and Sweden - sacked and replaced by
a 64 year old school teacher and FIFA executive? And
why when they played Paraguay in London recently, was
a 19 year old given his first cap, then substituted
after only 30 minutes after being pulled to pieces,
while Taribo West did not even make the 32-man squad?
If any side is in crisis as the World Cup approaches
it is Nigeria. And why they are is a mystery. They
qualified as well as any team in the whole tournament,
and were going to their third straight tournament
fancied by many to reach the quarter finals at least.
Then they went to the African Cup of Nations, and
although they did not set the competition alight, they
played well. Then they lost to Senegal in the semi
final. And everything suddenly went mad.
The Nigerian Sports Minister decided to disband the
squad that played in Mali. He said they were
'undisciplined, old and tired'. He said that the
team's stars were too arrogant, too unwilling to try,
and not worthy of representing the country in Japan.
So a new coach was installed, and a huge squad of
players, old and new, was assembled under the
leadership of Chief Festus Onigbinde. All this while
the successful partnership of coach Shuaibu Amodu and
his assistant Stephen Keshi was suspended on full pay
and told they would play no part in preparing the
squad for the World Cup.
This new era started in earnest in March when Nigeria
played Paraguay in front of six thousand fans in
London. 32 Nigerian players were gathered at a London
hotel and from them a team was picked to play the
tough, seasoned Paraguayans. While this was going on,
the other 50 squad members sat at home (Taribo West
included) wondering why so many youth team players had
been picked instead of them.
In the event Nigeria somehow held on, and in the end
could have even sneaked a last minute winner.
Paraguay had turned up expecting a tough, testing full
international. Instead they got shooting practice
against a debutant goalkeeper and youth-team defence,
and gave up interest in the game long before the end.
Of Nigeria's established stars only Kanu, Okocha and
Celestine Babayaro played, and between them they
managed to win a penalty after 80 minutes that saved
Nigerian pride somewhat. That they almost grabbed a
late winner tells much about the raw talent available
Luckily for all fans of Nigerian football they did not
manage to win this game. That would have given
Onigbinde free reign to continue 'experimenting' (a
full 60 days before they meet Argentina) with these
kids. Instead he must now include more of his
established, European based players for the games in
Scotland and Ireland. Because if he does not - and
takes this squad to Japan - Argentina, Sweden and
England will be looking to break a few goal scoring
records in June, and Nigeria will be back at home
after less than two weeks, in disgrace.
It is utterly implausible to think that Onigbinde will
refuse to take players of the stature of West and
Finidi to Japan. Nigeria (along with Cameroon) have
the best players in Africa. In Kanu, Okocha, West,
Finidi and Oliseh Nigeria have genuine stars, long
established in some of Europe's top teams with a
proven track record of success. To go to Japan
without them would be suicidal, but if the Sports
Minister gets his way that is exactly what is going to
Does he have a point? Is Kanu or West
'undisciplined', 'arrogant' or just plain 'old and
tired'? You have to argue not. Former assistant
coach Keshi argues that these players '…. conceded
only one goal in an unbeaten qualifying campaign, have
lost only once in 18 matches, and cannot be old and
lazy' - otherwise, he says, Arsenal, Chelsea, PSG and
Kaiserslauten would sack them. He cannot understand
why they are being excluded. He certainly has a
The idea that any of these players would be allowed to
play for major European clubs if they were old and
lazy is laughable and proves something else is going
on. So maybe the Sports Minister is suggesting that
they only become old and lazy in a Nigeria shirt?
Perhaps what he is saying is that they are unwilling
to try hard for Nigeria? Now here he may have more of
Big European clubs love to employ good African
players. Without wishing to generalise or stereotype,
most of these clubs see African players as being
fundamentally more talented (especially in terms of
raw talent) than their European counterparts. They
are also seen as being better natural athletes. They
are also substantially cheaper to employ, commanding
lower transfer fees and wages. Even better for most
of these teams, African players can almost always
speak English or French, and will be unlikely to want
to move form club to club every close season. They
are loyal, work hard and don't complain. Perfect.
What clubs like Arsenal and Chelsea hate though is
their African players leaving for international duty.
Managers like Arsene Wenger complain that many of
these games are unnecessary, or that they involve too
much travel. Their players will come back tired and
will miss too much time. They are pressured not to
go, to be injured and to pull out of squads, or to not
try to get too tired. Thus you start to see where the
Sports Minister is coming from. On one hand Nigeria
wants Kanu to play his heart out against Senegal and
Congo at the African Cup of Nations. On the other his
club manager does not want him to get injured in the
middle of January, and miss important games in England
and Europe. He then gets reminded who pays his wages.
It is in this mad, crazy, unfair world that Nigeria's
players and fans find themselves. They have been
drawn into the toughest first round group in World Cup
history (or at least since Brazil, Portugal and
Hungary met in 1966) and have no idea who is going to
make the trip. The coach and Nigerian FA are also in
a Catch-22 situation. They want to pick their best
players for friendlies, but they also want their best
players to get even better. That means going to
Europe. But that might mean them missing important
friendlies. It will certainly mean them
under-performing from time to time.
Yet as the last 10 minutes of the Nigeria-Paraguay
game showed, Nigerian fans should never quite give up
hope. These players are just too good for that.
Certainly Sven Goran Eriksson, Tommy Söderberg and
Marcello Bielsa will not be counting them out just
yet. On form, the attacking quintet of Kanu, Okocha,
Finidi, Oliseh and Babayaro can hurt any defence. If
West comes back the defence will be immensely stronger
as well. And as Spain, Italy and Bulgaria know only
too well, since they first appeared on the world stage
eight years ago Nigeria have always been capable of
pulling off a few shocks. And they still could do
But this World Cup should have been different.
Nigeria have got qualification virtually guaranteed
now. They should have been planning ahead for each
subsequent World Cup. This time they should have been
looking at a minimum appearance in the quarter final,
maybe even the last four. Instead they are going to
be knocked out in the group stage. They have gone
backwards instead of forwards. Those Super Eagles are
not soaring yet.
A BRIEF WORLD CUP HISTORY
by Jan Alsos
Nigeria has emerged as Africa’s leading country over the last ten
years. They made their World Cup debut in USA 1994 reaching the second round having
progressed from a group with Argentina, Greece and Bulgaria. They were just a minute away from
eliminating Italy in that second round game when Roberto Baggio equalized and secured extra
time. The same man converted a penalty in the extra half hour and won the game for Italy, but
Nigeria had showed that African football was more than Cameroon.
In 1998, Nigeria got off to a great start upsetting Spain to win 3-2 in an entertaining game.
The Nigerians won the group also containing Bulgaria and Paraguay, but crashed out
unpredictably against Denmark in the second round by 4-1. Consistency has always been the
problem for African teams - for Nigeria too.
Info on how
the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
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of many of the most influential players in history.
An A-Z collection
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