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WORLD CUP 2018: AFRICAN PARTICIPATION (Pt. 1)

The seeming endless wait for Football’s biggest tournament, the FIFA world cup is nearing an end and we’re only a couple of hours away from the first match of this highly anticipated tournament. But while almost every football lover is concentrating on the performance and expectations of western countries, not much attention has been paid to the five African teams participating in this year’s World Cup.

Africa, the second most-populous continent and a place where football is the number one sport is yet to produce a team to advance beyond the quarter-finals let alone lift the gold trophy. The 2014 World Cup held in Brazil left us with some very unpleasant memories as Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria all made headlines for the wrong reasons. Ghana’s players boycotted training in protest at not receiving appearance fees owed to them. It was only settled when their government sent more than $3m in cash by plane. Meanwhile, Cameroon’s players arrived late in South America because of a dispute over bonus payments. Nigeria’s story wasn’t any different. We hope this year’s world cup will present us with pleasant news and headline.

We present our own evaluation of the teams’ chances, final squad lists, star players and group fixtures.

NIGERIA

Compared to other African teams, Nigeria has been very consistent since their first appearance at the World Cup in 1994. The Super Eagles also played in the 1998, 2002, 2010, 2014 World Cup tournaments.

The least ranked African nation in the tournament secured it’s qualification for the tournament before the final qualifying match getting some accolades as the first team to qualify for the world cup, easing past perennial rivals, Cameroun, Algeria and Zambia in style. But unimpressive results in friendly games played ahead of the World Cup has become a source of worry.

Captained by the experienced John Obi-Mikel, the team which has been under the experienced and well-travelled German coach Gernot Rohr since 2016 on the way to Russia eliminated Swaziland in the preliminary round and Cameroun, Algeria and Zambia in the group phase with 14 points exceeding Zambia’s 8 points, Cameroon’s 7 points, and Algeria’s 2 points.

CHANCES

If winning the World Cup was strictly by the popularity, design and acceptability of a team’s kit alone, the Super Eagles would have won this year’s World cup without kicking a ball but once again they’ll have to face Argentina the fourth time, Iceland and Croatia in Group D, the “group of death”. Argentina is ranked 5th in the world, Iceland remains at 22 while Croatia dropped two places from 18th to 20th.

A 4-2 victory against Argentina in November proved that Nigeria has the firepower in attack and the strength in midfield to pose a challenge. Nigeria’s strength lies in its solid midfield play with a dynamic and very potent attack. Players like Chelsea’s Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho are promising enough to believe that Nigeria could advance from this group.

Good results against Croatia and Iceland can propel them to the second round – to which they also advanced in 1994, 1998 and 2014 – and even deeper into the tournament.

The team prefers a 4-2-3-1 formation.

BEST WORLD CUP: Round of 16 (1994, 1998, 2014)

COACH : Gernot Rohr

SQUAD:

Goalkeepers: Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Enyimba), Francis Uzoho (Deportivo La Coruna), Daniel Akpeyi (Chippa United).

Defenders: Abdullahi Shehu (Bursaspor), Tyronne Ebuehi (Den Haag), Elderson Echiejile (Brugge), Bryan Idowu (Amkar Perm), Chidozie Awaziem (Nantes), William Ekong (Bursaspor), Leon Balogun (Brighton), Kenneth Omeruo (Kasimpasa).

Midfielders: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin TEDA), Ogenyi Onazi (Trabzonspor), Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester), Oghenekaro Etebo (Las Palmas), John Ogu (Hapoel Be’er Sheva), Joel Obi (Torino).

Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Leicester), Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Simeon Nwankwo (Crotone)

KEYPLAYER(S): Mikel Obi, Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi

FIXTURES:

16th June: v Croatia Kaliningrad 20:00 BST
22nd June: v Iceland Volgograd 16:00 BST
26th June: v Argentina St Petersburg 19:00 BST

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