Population: 126,600,000
Area: 923,768 km²
Capital: Abuja
Language: English

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.
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Participations: (2) 1994 and 1998
Best placing: Second round 1994 and 1998
Topscorers: Daniel Amokachi and Emmanuel Amunike, 2 goals.
More detailed history information

Jun 02 - NGR v ARG  in Ibaraki
Jun 07 - NGR v SWE  in Kobe
Jun 12 - NGR v ENG  in Osaka

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 this group.

WCA 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.


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 to Nigeria.

    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 happen.

    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 point.

    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 a point.

    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 that.

    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.


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.




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