Having recently replaced Shaibu Amodu with former Sweden Coach Lars Lagerback following the country’s elimination at the hands of Ghana in the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, Nigeria embarks on its latest World Cup adventure with hopes of a fresh start under one of Europe’s most well-respected international managers.
Despite the obvious potential problems involved with installing a new Coach so close to a major tournament, Lagerback seems to have settled into his new role quickly and, with a friendly penciled in for May 26th, should have enough time to instill his philosophy into this talented squad. With the Swede yet to formally take charge of a game – he watched from the stands during Nigeria’s 5-2 win over DR Congo in early March – it is difficult to know the side or system he will adopt, but it is unlikely that he will make sweeping changes to the system deployed by his predecessor.
During the Africa Cup of Nations Amodu favoured a loose 4-3-3 system, with three holding midfielders sitting behind the attacking trio of Chinedu Obasi, Peter Odemwingie and Obafemi Martins. The ability of Obina and Odemwingie in the wide areas, supplemented by the willingness of full-backs Joseph Yobo and Taye Taiwo to get forwards makes the Super Eagles a dangerous proposition on the flanks and, with the finishing prowess of Martins and/or Yakubu in the centre, should not struggle to create chances in a group where the West Africans are arguably second favourites behind Argentina.
As well as their obvious attacking threat, the Nigerians are also strong, both in terms of skill and physicality, in defence. In Jon Obi Mikel, Dickson Etuhu and Ayila Yussuf, Lagerback has a trio of strong and talented young central midfielders to draw on, players whose stamina and work ethic will be vital in terms of both shielding the back four and launching counter-attacks. Behind them will be a defence rich in experience and imposing in its size and robustness, the likes of Danny Shittu and Joseph Yobo giving the team a solid defensive foundation upon which its attacking ethos can be built.
With a youthful squad and an astute manager in place, the Super Eagles will be keen to at least equal, if not surpass their previous best performance at a World Cup by progressing from the group, something this team is more than capable of. This could well be a groundbreaking summer for Nigeria.
Probable starting XI: Enyeama (Hapoel Tel Aviv); Yobo (Everton), Nwaneri (Sion), Shittu (Bolton Wanderers), Taiwo (Marseille); Etuhu (Fulham), Mikel (Chelsea), Ayila (Dynamo Kiev); Obina (Malaga), Martins (Wolfsburg)/Yakubu (Everton), Odemwingie (Lokomotiv Moscow)
The Road to South Africa: 3rd in CAF qualifying third round Group B
World Ranking: 2oth