The Super Eagles of Nigeria enter the 2014 FIFA World Cup with high expectations back home after being crowned champions of Africa in 2013. Led by Stephen Keshi, the Nigerian team has finally been transformed into a cohesive unit, after years of infighting and failure to qualify for the 2012 African Cup of Nations. With Keshi in charge, they cruised through qualification undefeated and have become a side that can boast a team chemistry greater than the sum of their individual talent.
Nigeria can be expected to play a 4-2-3-1, which can easily shift into a 4-4-1-1, with the number 10 able to double as an attacking midfielder and supporting striker. Placed in Group F with Iran, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and heavyweights Argentina, they will hope to progress out of their group and beyond.
Captain Vincent Enyeama will serve as Nigeria’s most reliable player. The Lille number one is undoubtedly the best goalkeeper out of Africa, but with an often unstable defense in front of him, Enyeama may find himself busy against the wide variety of attacking talent he will face.
Being the first name on Keshi’s team sheet, an injury to Enyeama would be disastrous, with deputies Austin Ejide and Chigozie Agbim of significantly lesser quality. It cannot be overstated the importance of Enyeama performing to the peak of his abilities should Nigeria hope to exit their group.
Nigeria’s defense is not of the same quality that will be found further up the pitch, and this will not be helped by the recent injury to left back Elderson Echiéjilé. The Monaco man suffered a hamstring tear in a recent warmup match against Greece, and will not be able to recover in time for the group stages. Likely to replace him will be Juwon Oshaniwa, who recently dealt with a case of malaria. The 23-year-old plays his club football in Israel and in their most recent friendly against the United States, Oshaniwa was exposed multiple times by American right back Fabian Johnson. Losing an experienced full back without a replacement of a similar calibre will be a blow to Keshi and Nigeria’s back four.
On the opposite flank, Celtic defender Efe Ambrose will play at right back. Despite usually playing at center back for his club, Ambrose is perfectly capable of playing on the right, having done so throughout Nigeria’s successful African Cup of Nations campaign in 2013.
The two center back roles will likely be filled by Godfrey Oboabona and Kenneth Omeruo. A young pair, only 23 and 20 respectively, they will beat out aging veteran and former captain Joseph Yobo, who many criticized after their loss to the United States. Omeruo, owned by Chelsea, had an impressive season on loan with Middlesbrough and already has significant experience with the national team despite his young age. He will certainly be a player to watch throughout the tournament. Should Yobo be selected though, he can also expect to wear the captain’s armband ahead of Enyeama.
Center midfield may prove to be Nigeria’s strongest area on the pitch, with John Obi Mikel and Ogenyi Onazi almost certain to be paired together. Mikel, perhaps the most recognizable name in Nigerian football, plays for Chelsea as a defensive midfielder. While certainly not being relieved of his defensive duties, he is allowed greater freedom to roam forward while playing for his country. Onazi, only 21, is a combative midfielder who plays for Lazio. Along with Omeruo, Onazi was part of the Nigerian team that finished runners up at the U-17 World Cup played on home soil.
Out wide, Nigeria will call upon Premier League winger Victor Moses. The Chelsea player, who was loaned to Liverpool this season, will look to improve upon a string of disappointing seasons at the club level. He will be relieved that his form is markedly better while playing for Nigeria, but Moses will certainly have a point to prove in Brazil. On the opposite flank, Ahmed Musa will hope to recover from injury in time to face Iran on June 16th. The CSKA Moscow wide man suffered from a thigh strain, but if fit, will certainly be a significant threat down the left.
Playing in the hole behind the striker and between the two wingers will likely be Stoke City forward Peter Odemwingie. Born in Uzbekistan, Odemwingie is returning to the squad after having repaired relations with Keshi after a dispute last year.
Playing up top will be Fenerbahçe striker Emmanuel Emenike. The 27-year-old is coming off of a title winning season in Istanbul and has a robust goalscoring record for Nigeria, scoring in nearly every other match. Substantial in size, Nigerian fans will hope that Emenike’s strength and consistency will result in goals for the team. With fragilities in the defenses of the three teams they will face, this may be a distinct possibility.