Players to watch
Ogenyi Onaze. The 21-year-old midfielder who plies his trade with Lazio in Italy’s Serie A just can’t stay out of the headlines. One minute he’s narrowly surviving a Boko Haram bombing in Jos; the next he finds himself used – unknowingly – by a Nigerian sports agent who was caught on videotape boasting that he could fix World Cup matches.
In between all of that, he’s a critical source of strength at the base of Nigeria’s midfield. While striker Emmanuel Emenike is on most pundits' cards as the man most likely to provide the goals up front, keep an eye on Peter Osaze Odemwingie. The Tashkent-born son of a Nigerian father and Russian mother has been recalled after 18 months in the wilderness, and the Stoke striker remains a prolific scorer at the age of 32.
The Super Eagles marked their World Cup debut in 1994 with an emphatic 3-0 drubbing of Bulgaria, lost narrowly to Argentina and then beat Greece to make the round of 16 where they were agonizingly bested by Italy after extra time.
Beset by corruption and mismanagement, Nigerian football endured a long slump following its mid-'90s heyday – a slump that arguably continues even though the Super Eagles won last year’s African Cup of Nations. The squad heads to the World Cup with few standout players, and coach Stephen Keshi at odds with the Nigerian Football Association. Still, with Iran and Bosnia to beat for second place in Group F behind Argentina, they should make it at least as far as the Group of 16, but no further.
The squad have won the African Cup of Nations, and enjoy a measure of stability under coach Stephen Keshi, himself a player in 1994. Their round-of-16 opponent would likely be France, against whom they may get lucky. If so, though, they’re unlikely to get past Germany in the quarterfinal.
Did you know?
Boko Haram, notorious kidnappers of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls and perpetrators of dozens of attacks on civilians, sees soccer as part of the Western influence they’re trying to violently eliminate. In recent weeks, they’ve killed dozens of Nigerians in attacks on crowds watching soccer games, and Nigerians gathering in public places to watch World Cup broadcasts in areas where the group is active do so under the shadow of Boko Haram’s violent objections.
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