After embarrassingly missing out on qualifying for the 2017 African Nations Cup, Nigeria surprised everyone by strolling through the toughest of the African 2018 World Cup qualifying groups, which included a 4-0 routing of the African champions Cameroon. Their performances in their qualifying campaign make it difficult to fault them, however they will still have to fight hard to make it out of a group that consists of Argentina, Iceland and Croatia.
Nigeria’s best finish at the World Cup finals has been in reaching the second round, which has occurred on three occasions, in 1994, 1998 and 2014. This current Nigerian side is much changed from that which reached the last 16 in Brazil four years ago. Although it has benefitted from the inclusion of young talent, the team will need to call on experienced and mentally strong members in order to face the pressure and get the results they need to progress. Youngsters Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi have thus far failed to live up to their potential at an international level, despite both being impressive for their clubs this season. If they can find their form in Russia this summer, Nigeria stand a great chance of reaching the second round, and perhaps going even further.
- Victor Moses (Chelsea) – Chelsea’s Victor Moses is without a doubt this Nigeria side’s key player, and he proved in the qualifying campaign that when he plays, the team’s performance goes up a gear. Generally played in a right wing-back or right midfielder role, Moses has the perfect balance of strength and speed. Coach Gernot Rohr will look to Moses to use his experience to control the middle of the park and to guide and encourage Iwobi and Iheanacho up front.
- Leon Balogun (1. FSV Mainz 05) – Although 29 years old, Balogun is a relatively new joiner to the Nigerian first team, but has already proven his leadership capabilities to be worthy of the captain’s armband. The anchor in an inexperienced back four, Balogun was instrumental in controlling and solidifying the defensive unit throughout the qualifiers. However, he recognises that they have much more work to do in order to toughen up before the finals get underway in the summer, where his defensive unit will have to attempt to nullify the threat from Lionel Messi. Balogun has publicly backed his disciplinarian coach Rohr, recognising that discipline and unity is the key to Nigeria’s defensive solidarity.
Gernot Rohr – The former Bayern Munich player was appointed to coach Nigeria on a two- year contract in August 2016, in a surprise move. He has previous experience in coaching African nations, spending time in charge of Gabon, Niger and Burkina Faso before this current position. Since being appointed, he has proven that his strict disciplinarian methods are effective, and although sometimes harsh, he has garnered the respect needed from his squad.