The expectations for the Nigeria World Cup squad of 2010 were high. The super eagles were seen as the most likely African team who could reach the semi-finals. They had recently won the 2007 World Youth World Cup, and these talented players had the hope of the African continent behind them.
It did not go to plan as they were knocked out in the group stage. They lost 1-0 to Argentina in the first game. Greece was the shock result beating the Nigerians 2-1 in the second game. In the final Group B game against South Korea, they need to win to advance. After taking an early lead, they found themselves down 2-1 just after half-time. Yakubu scored a penalty with 20 minutes remaining. The super eagles pushed and pushed for the winner. However, South Korea held on for the draw. This was the first shock of the 2010 World Cup.
Such a shock following Nigeria’s exit, the president of the county suspended the national team from representing the country for two years.
Let’s review the Nigeria World Cup Squad Of 2010 players that were supposed to go far in this tournament.
Date of Birth: 8 April 1984
Height: 186 cm
Shirt number: 16
First international: Scotland – Nigeria (17-04-2002)
Plays his club soccer in Israel. His chance in Europe came after time with the small Nigerian club Gabros International and a successful four years with Tunisia club Etoile du Sahel. He reached the African Champions League final twice, in 2004 and 2005.
He was always powerful and quick to get his sizeable frame down on the ground, Ejide was often too aggressive coming off his line, and he worked through a reputation for making mistakes. After appearing in his only FIFA World Cup qualifier in a 1-1 draw with Rwanda, he was a goalkeeper at the 2008 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, which was the only major tournament since the 2002 FIFA World Cup that Vincent Enyeama wasn’t the number one choice in goal for Nigeria.
After Berti Vogts was sacked, Enyeama became the number one choice again. Later that year, a spirited performance in a friendly with Colombia did not help his cause, though he was solid with the Republic of Ireland in 2009. His athleticism is such that he is known to do full flips in celebration on the pitch.
Date of Birth: 20 November 1983
Height: 186 cm
Shirt number: 23
First international: Romania – Nigeria (16 November 2005)
Usually considered the number three Nigeria goalkeeper, Dele Aiyenugba is not the only understudy to number one choice Vincent Enyeama at the national team level. He followed in his compatriot’s footsteps at both domestic club Enyimba and Israeli side Bnei Yehuda. He gained some fame as Enyimba won the African Champions League in two consecutive years as the substitute for Enyeama, who was brought in specifically for his ability in penalty shootouts.
A good omen for Aiyenugba is that one of his brightest moments came in South Africa in September of 2008 when Nigeria ran out 1-0 winners over Bafana Bafana in Port Elizabeth as the Super Eagles went on to eliminate the FIFA World Cup hosts from qualifying for the continental tournament.
It was the perfect argument for the value of a backup goalkeeper, called upon infrequently but expected to be sharp when he is. Aiyenugba also trusted the store in Nigeria’s 4-1 win over Sierra Leone in the same preliminary round. This season, some impressive performances for his Tel Aviv club assure the athletic shot-stopper a place in the Nigeria squad, where he will undoubtedly be prepared if his number ends up on the team sheet.
Date of Birth: 29 August 1982
Height: 185 cm
Shirt number: 1
First international: Nigeria – Kenya (4 May 2002)
Date of Birth: 6 September 1980
Height: 185 cm
Shirt number: 2
First international: Zambia – Nigeria (24 March 2001)
The most consistent central defender in Nigeria’s squad, Joseph Yobo, has been a mainstay in the side since making his debut as a 20-year-old against Zambia in 2001. Fast, strong, good in the air, and relatively comfortable on the ball, Yobo is one of Africa’s finest back-line products. He also occupies a leadership position for the Super Eagles and can inspire the team all the way forward from the back. After helping the U-20 national team reach the 1999 FIFA U-20 World Cup quarter-finals, the emerging player proved he was ready for the national team in time for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. He played in all three matches for the Super Eagles in Korea and Japan. Though they were eliminated from the so-called ‘Group of Death’ with just one point and one goal, he assisted on the side’s only tally while giving an excellent overall accounting of himself. His impressive showing earned him attention from several big clubs, including Juventus and Arsenal, but he eventually made a loan move from Marseille to Everton in the English Premier League. He had started his European career with Standard Liege in Belgium at the age of 18.
His performances for Everton won him a permanent move the next year as he became David Moyes’s first transfer signing. He formed part of an impressive defensive unit and became one of the favorite sons for the Toffees, being named Young Player of the Year at the club after his first permanent season. In 2006/07, he was on the pitch for every second of the Premiership season. He also played in the FA Cup final in 2009, where Everton fell to Chelsea 2-1. However, he has often been linked with a move away from Goodison Park, including to Arsenal. Those rumors resurfaced before the 2010 FIFA World Cup after he suffered an injury and reportedly had a falling out with David Moyes.
But for the national team, the 29-year-old has been essentially omnipresent through many managers, pairing in the center of defense with a range of other players. Though the fancied west Africans missed out on a place in Germany in 2006, Yobo was a crucial figure in the teams that finished third at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2010 and reached the quarter-final stage in 2008. Although his performances at Angola 2010 were limited due to a recurring hamstring problem, his value for Nigeria was shown in qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. He played nine times in the campaign, with his highlight being back-to-back matches against Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea, where the defender scored the only goal in each. He was also in the side that came from behind to win 3-2 in Kenya to book Nigeria’s place in the South Africa finals. He is married to a former Miss Nigeria in his personal life, and he has formed the Joseph Yobo Foundation to help underprivileged youngsters in Nigeria. His brother was kidnapped at gunpoint in July of 2008 in Nigeria, but he was released later that month, reportedly unharmed.
Date of Birth: 18 April 1980
Height: 183 cm
Shirt number: 5
First international: Nigeria – Sierra Leone (17 June 2000)
Rabiu Afolabi’s call-up by coach Lars Lagerback for the 2010 FIFA World Cup was surprising and nostalgic. Afolabi is 30 years going into this tournament and has been out of the squad for a long time, particularly under previous manager Shaibu Amodu. But he was once a rising star for the West Africans, and his place in South Africa marks something of a return to the fold for the Osogbo native. Nicknamed ‘Robocop’ for his tall yet muscular physique, Afolabi could bring a powerful and confident presence to the center of the Nigerian defense after winning the league title in his first season with Austrian club Salzburg.
Strong in the air and versatile enough to play in several positions, Afolabi first came to the attention of supporters in 1999 when they started turning in promising performances for the Nigerian U-20s in the run-up to the U-20 World Cup finals in their home country. He captained the side that ended up disappointed to go out at the quarter-final stage, but he impressed enough to earn his first full international appearance in qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Afolabi was called up to the Korea Republic and Japan finals at 22 with just a handful of caps to his name. However, he did not appear in the event, and he has been an irregular contributor to the Super Eagles ever since. He featured very briefly at the 2008 CAF Africa Cup of Nations when Berti Vogts led the team, and that was his last significant appearance before Lagerback took over. After that, he had a spell in Austrian club soccer with Austria Wien, winning the league twice before four solid years with Sochaux in France. He came to European club soccer in 1997 with Standard Liege and spent six successful years with the Belgian club.
Date of Birth: 17 December 1983
Height: 181 cm
Shirt number: 17
First international: Zimbabwe – Nigeria (5 September 2004)
A relative veteran at just 26, Chidi Odiah was previously the first choice for Nigeria at right fullback. Still, he has struggled with injuries and fell in and out of favor with previous coach Shaibu Amodu. But with main competitor Yusuf Mohammed out for much of the year due to a knee injury, and given his natural versatility and work rate on the pitch, Odiah should feature strongly in coach Lars Lagerback’s South African plans. The skillful, attack-minded full-back has become a regular at CSKA Moscow. He played a big part in winning the UEFA Cup in his first year in Russia (2005) and went to the quarter-finals of this season’s UEFA Champions League, where he was sent off against Inter Milan. This high-level experience will surely help him rebuild his national team confidence, which suffered as he was left out of most of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers for the 2010 finals.
After appearing five times in the second stage of the preliminaries, he only featured once in Nigeria’s up-and-down third stage, in a scoreless draw with Mozambique in the middle of the campaign. His highlight came at the end of the second stage when he shredded Sierra Leone’s defense, setting up a goal and scoring another after a lovely individual move in a 4-1 win at the National Stadium in Abuja. Odia did get a recall for the all-important final qualifier at Kenya, which Nigeria won 3-2 to book their place at South Africa 2010, but he was left on the bench. However, he played a more significant part in Nigeria’s unsuccessful bid to reach Germany in 2006, and his overall record in FIFA World Cup qualifiers is excellent: 12 matches without a loss. His other shining moment with the national team came at the 2006 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, where he started all six of their matches on the way to winning a third-place medal, but he missed the 2008 continental finals through injury.
Date of Birth: 25 December 1988
Height: 189 cm
Shirt number: 22
First international: Republic of Ireland – Nigeria (29 May 2009)
One of the stars of the Nigerian’ Dream Team’ that reached the final at both the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup and the 2008 Olympic Football Tournament, Dele Adeleye has emerged as a promising defensive alternative for the Super Eagles at the tender age of 21. He and Onyekachi Apam formed a solid center of the defense at the U-20s and the Olympics. Still, they compete with each other and others to partner alongside mainstay Joseph Yobo in South Africa. He performed admirably as a substitute in Nigeria’s famous 1-0 victory over France at Stade de France in 2009.
During the last three seasons at Sparta Rotterdam, Adeleye can be a commanding presence but lacks experience with the full national team. He appeared in only three of Nigeria’s FIFA World Cup qualifiers on the road to the finals, and his sluggish performance against Tunisia in the 2-2 draw last September was criticized. He lost his place for the vital final qualifiers as the Super Eagles only secured the final on the previous matchday. Some questions about his disciplinary record after being banned for five matches in the Dutch League after an elbow to an opponent’s face late in 2009. He was one of the last players cut by former Nigeria coach Shaibu Amodu in the run-up to the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Angola earlier this year. But his composure on the ball, married with his athleticism and timing, have made him a common rumor target for English Premier League teams looking to strengthen their defenses.
Date of Birth: 16 April 1985
Height: 188 cm
Shirt number: 3
First international: South Africa – Nigeria (17-11-2004)
One of the Nigerian stars to shine most brightly at the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup, Taye Taiwo, was named the third-best player in that tournament after scoring two goals as his side went all the way to the final before falling to Argentina. It was quite a recognition for a left-back, and the 25-year-old Marseille player has gone from strength to strength to become one of the most exciting defenders in Europe. In addition, he was named CAF African Young Player of Year for 2006 after his performances with the French club lit up the Ligue 1. Fast, driven, and possessing a famously thumping shot, Taiwo could play a sizeable role for the Super Eagles at the 2010 FIFA World Cup after competing in nine qualifiers on the way to the finals. He has emerged as a leader of the new generation of players looking to re-establish Nigeria’s international reputation.
Having made his international debut in 2004 in South Africa at the Mandela Challenge, Taiwo signed for Marseille that same year from Lobi Star in his home country. Since then, he has been part of the Super Eagles teams that finished third at the 2006 and 2010 CAF Africa Cup of Nations and reached the quarter-finals in the same tournament in 2008. It’s a measure of his precociousness that he scored in his AFCON debut to defeat Ghana, with no less goal in the 85th minute. With the French giants, he also won the Intertoto Cup in 2005 and reached consecutive French Cup finals in 2006 and 2007. However, he does have a reputation for letting his defensive responsibilities lapse, which is why he lost his place at the 2010 Cup of Nations to up-and-coming Elderson Uwa Echiejile after the opening 3-1 defeat to Egypt. He suffered a particularly embarrassing moment in the loss to the eventual champions when he turned his back on Ahmed Hassan’s long shot only to have the ball deflect off him and into his goal. But he was in good form for Marseille this year, scoring a classic long-range match-winner against Lyon towards the end of the season and captaining the side to their first silverware in 17 years: the French League Cup.
Date of Birth: 2 September 1980
Height: 190 cm
Shirt number: 6
First international: Paraguay – Nigeria (26 March 2002)
A powerful and athletic central defender due to turn 30 after the FIFA World Cup in 2010, Danny Shittu is an experienced option at the back for Nigeria. Though he has not secured as many international appearances as one would have thought since his debut in 2002, he’s been a part of many squads for the Super Eagles. He occasionally formed a regular partnership with Joseph Yobo in qualifying for South Africa. Shittu won his first cap for Nigeria in a 2002 friendly in London when he came on as a second-half substitute against Paraguay. Still, he was unlucky to be left out of the 2002 FIFA World Cup squad by coach Adegboye Onigbinde. He was a regular for former coach Berti Vogts and played a significant role for the Super Eagles team that lost in the quarter-finals of the 2008 CAF Africa Cup of Nations to hosts Ghana. He was also a rock in the back four for Nigeria at Angola 2010 as the side finished third.
Having grown up in London and played his entire professional career in England, he’s achieved respected journeyman status in English club soccer. After starting with Charlton Athletic, he made his name most prominently with Queens Park Rangers and Watford before moving to Bolton in the Premier League in 2008. His first year with Wanderers was promising, but he fell out of favor with coach Gary Megson this past season and struggled to get a match for new manager Owen Coyle after being hampered with injuries and attending the CAF Africa Cup Nations at the start of February. Before going to Bolton, he was linked with Newcastle, Rangers, Celtic, and others, and the transfer rumor mill has once again been busy building around him.
Elderson Uwa Echiejile
Date of Birth: 20 January 1988
Height: 198 cm
Shirt number: 21
First international: France – Nigeria (2 June 2009)
A left-sided player who started as an attacker, Elderson Uwa Echiejile keeps his offensive attributes well-utilized even from his now-favored left-back position. If he finds match action, his ability to get forward down the flank and whip in crosses could be one of Nigeria’s secret weapons. The 22-year-old is typically considered an understudy to Taye Taiwo in the full-back spot. Still, he took his opportunity when Taiwo suffered a dip in form at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year.
After the Super Eagles were dismantled 3-1 by Egypt in their first match in Angola, Echiejile started the second against Benin and helped the team hold on for a 1-0 victory. After that, he kept his place through shutout wins over Mozambique and Zambia, earning positive notices for his energetic running and growing confidence. Finally, after doing well in the 1-0 loss to west African rivals Ghana in the last four, Echiejile gave way to Taiwo, who came back for the third-place victory over Algeria. So the two could be considered neck-and-neck for the position.
Echiejile had previously displayed his pace on the pitches of Canada at the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup and made his full international debut in the famous 1-0 victory over France in Paris. However, despite showing his precociousness, he only appeared in three qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Still, two of those were the final wins over Mozambique and Kenya that allowed the Super Eagles to sneak into the finals at last.
Date of Birth: 1 August 1976
Height: 197 cm
Shirt number: 4
First international: Sweden – Nigeria (5 May 1994)
By now a legend in his own time, Nwankwo Kanu is both the most successful and most consistent Nigerian international of his generation. Due to turn 34 years old the month after the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, the forward is the only member of the outstanding Super Eagles team at the 1998 FIFA World Cup still in contention with the national team. He also featured at the 2002 finals, was named two-time African player of the year, won an Olympic gold medal, and competed in his sixth CAF Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year in Angola. Although he has naturally lost a few steps with age, Kanu still has flashes of the skillful brilliance that marked his youth, and he is seen within the team and in the country as a vitally experienced talisman. And whether he plays a significant role this summer for his national team, Kanu will head into the sunset of his career, secure in the knowledge that he has been one of the most beloved African players of them all.
After winning a UEFA Champions League trophy with Ajax at 18 years old, the lanky Kanu captained Nigeria to the gold medal at the Olympic Football Tournament in Atlanta in 1996. He scored two goals in the famous 4-3 semi-final win, including the last-gasp equalizer and the extra-time winner. After that, a heart defect and surgery seemed to have derailed his soccer career, but he returned to the highest level of play in 1999 and became a legend at English giants Arsenal. Always more of a playmaker than a scorer, Kanu nonetheless scored 44 times in 198 appearances with the Gunners, winning two league titles and two FA Cups in the process. He was also remembered for his stellar 17-minute hat trick away to Chelsea in 1999. Despite an up-and-down time over the last half-dozen years, Kanu has remained a part of the Super Eagles, appearing six times in qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and showing moments of menace in the third-place match against Algeria at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year.
Date of Birth: 4 November 1984
Height: 179 cm
Shirt number: 13
First international: Nigeria – Gabon (26 March 2005)
Another quality defensive midfielder in the Nigeria team, Yussuf Ayala, is an experienced hardman with enough versatility to play in the center of the pitch anywhere from defense to attacking midfield. Despite being just 26 years old, he has been picking up experience with the Super Eagles since 2005. In addition, he has been playing for Dynamo Kyiv for the last six seasons, gaining valuable time in the UEFA Champions League in the process.
He featured three times in the ultimately unsuccessful campaign to reach the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany – scoring a goal in the 5-1 dismantling of Zimbabwe in October of 2005 – and he did play his part in Nigeria’s third-place finish at the 2006 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. He was a surprise omission from then-coach Berti Vogts’s 2008 Cup of Nations squad, but Shaibu Amodu restored him to the rotation in the second round of qualifying for South Africa 2010. Injury problems saw him miss much of the third stage of the preliminaries. Still, he was recalled for the two must-win matches to close out qualifying: victories over Mozambique and Kenya. His record in FIFA World Cup qualifiers is a perfect ten wins out of 10 games.
Earlier this year, his Cup of Nations in Angola was up and down, despite Nigeria finishing a surprising third. He was one of the players singled out for criticism after the opening 3-1 defeat to Egypt and only appeared twice more as a substitute before the semi-final. He did start the last-four battle in the west African derby against the Black Stars of Ghana, but he was forced off through injury.
John Obi Mikel
Date of Birth: 22-4-1987
Height: 188 cm
First international: Nigeria – Libya (17 August 2005)
One of the great hopes of Nigerian football, John Obi Mikel, has had a long and eventful career, and he has only just turned 23 years old. Famous for the transfer war that erupted over him between Chelsea and Manchester United when he was just a teenager, the midfielder has consistently grown into the hype for Chelsea and his national team. A powerful but composed player, Mikel can disrupt an opponent’s attacks through sheer athleticism and physicality. In addition, his tough tackling and persistent closing down make him a dynamic force to build around in the middle of the park, as his regular presence in the Chelsea line-up attests.
For Nigeria, who are still looking for a full-time replacement for the long-retired creative midfielder Jay-Jay Okacha, Mikel tends to push forward more. And as he has matured for both club and country, he has shown greater comfort running with the ball, pulling strings, and even getting into the opponent’s area. Most agree that if Nigeria is to go far at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, Mikel will have to be in top-drawer form.
Mikel made his senior national team debut in the summer of 2005, just weeks after helping Nigeria to the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup in the Netherlands. Then 18 years old, his performances were so mature and impressive that he won the Silver Ball as the second-best player at the tournament, beat out only by Argentina phenom Lionel Messi. He was part of the team at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in 2006 that finished third, scoring his first international goal against Zimbabwe and claiming his debut national team start against Senegal.
His emergence was marked by CAF, who named Mikel as the 2005 and 2006 African Young Player of the Year, and he became a regular fixture in Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea teams. He settled in at Stamford Bridge, where he was seen as an heir apparent to French legend Claude Makelele and served as cover for Ghana’s great Michael Essien. Mikel showed off all of his quality in the 2007 FA Cup final against Manchester United as he bossed the midfield and played all 120 minutes in the 1-0 victory.
After the bright spot of the 2005 U-20s, Mikel’s time with Nigeria has often been up and down. He had a falling out with coach Berti Vogts, failed to turn up at Olympic qualifying, and was banned by the Nigeria Federation. And despite scoring a vital goal that got Nigeria out of the group stage at the 2008 Cup of Nations, his performance was considered disappointing as the Super Eagles went out in the quarter-finals to hosts Ghana.
At the 2010 continental finals, the feeling was that he still had not played up to his talent level with the national team, who were fortunate to finish third in Angola. However, he did show more willingness to get forward and take on some of the team leadership, which was later rewarded by new coach Lars Lagerback, who made Mikel the team’s captain before the finals.
Date of Birth: 4 December 1990
Height: 177 cm
Shirt number: 15
First international: Nigeria – Sudan (9 January 2008)
Date of Birth: 15 November 1982
Height: 171 cm
Shirt number: 12
First international: Nigeria – Angola (21 June 2003)
If Nigeria has had a problem finding a replacement for long-retired Jay Jay Okacha in the playmaking attacking midfield role, Kalu Uche has sometimes been considered the solution. Unfortunately for the Super Eagles, the Spain-based player might be more comfortable in the forward position, where he can utilize his speed in getting behind defenses. Whether the 27-year-old can consistently create dangerous situations from further back on the pitch, there is no doubt that Uche is one of the most stylish and skillful Nigerians with the ball at his feet.
Although being a solid club player, Uche has sometimes struggled to get noticed for Nigeria. His full national team debut came in a qualifier for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in the middle of 2003, though he only played in one FIFA World Cup qualifier on the road to Germany 2006, and he missed out on the 2006 and 2008 Cup of Nations. However, in 2009, he was one of the standout performers in international friendlies against the Republic of Ireland and France, the latter of which ended in a shock 1-0 victory for the Super Eagles. He was also a regular for previous coach Shaibu Amodu in the qualifiers for South Africa 2010, appearing nine times, though predominantly in the second stage of preliminaries.
He finally reached a continental final, playing three times at the Cup of Nations in Angola earlier this year, but really without making an impact.
Date of Birth: 2 May 1986
Height: 180 cm
Shirt number: 14
First international: Libya – Nigeria (17 August 2005)
Sani Kaita was one of the players to reach both the final of the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup and the 2008 Olympic Football Tournament, so he carries the hope of the ‘Dream Team’ label on him. A bustling, stocky presence, the 23-year-old usually slots into Nigeria’s defensive midfield, sometimes allowing John Obi Mikel more freedom to move forward on the pitch.
Kaita first caught the world’s attention at the 2005 finals in the Netherlands. He was signed shortly after from Kano Pillars in the domestic league by Sparta Rotterdam in the Dutch Eredivisie. He made his debut with the full national team against Sudan in a friendly at the start of 2008 and further impressed the world’s watching scouts at the Olympic tournament in Beijing. So after just 22 appearances with Sparta, he moved to French Ligue 1 side Monaco in 2008. But he played just a handful of matches in France, and then he moved on loan to Russia, where he has turned out for three different clubs. Out of sight, he struggled to get into previous coach Shaibu Amodu’s teams, appearing just twice in the qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa.
He was named in the Nigeria squad that finished third at the Cup of Nations in 2006 while still a teenager, though his only appearance was a starter in the semi-final defeat to Côte d’Ivoire. However, he played a more prominent and more vital role in the team that traveled to Angola for the continental finals earlier this year. He came on for the injured Kalu Uche in the second match against Benin and never relinquished his midfield spot, starting the next four games as the side finished third.
Date of Birth: 8 June 1982
Height: 191 cm
Shirt number: 20
First international: Mexico – Nigeria (14-10-2007)
For a Nigerian midfield long on strength and combativeness but short on creativity, Dickson Etuhu fits firmly into the former camp. Tall, powerful, and hard-working, the Fulham man is sure to form part of the cover in defensive midfield should John Obi Mikel be called on to get forward more. He can also be imposing in the air, and he proved he could get on the score sheet for his club in their famous Europa League advancement at the expense of Juventus. Born in Nigeria but raised in England, Etuhu started his club career with Manchester City but mostly with Preston North End and Norwich City. He spent a joyous 2007-8 season at Sunderland before being signed by Fulham coach Roy Hodgson, who has made the 28-year-old a regular feature of his first team.
Though he was called up to a Nigerian team in the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Etuhu first played for the Super Eagles in a friendly against Mexico in October of 2007. After that, he became a regular squad player for then-coach Berti Vogts and played well in two matches at the 2008 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. After that, however, a string of injuries saw him fall out of favor with the next coach, Shaibu Amodu. As a result, Etuhu only played in one qualifier for the 2010 FIFA World Cup – a 3-0 victory over Kenya last summer. But his excellent form early in the English Premier League season convinced Amodu to invite the player to the 2010 Cup of Nations in Angola. Etuhu was the first choice anchorman, playing solidly as a starter in each of the team’s first four matches. After that, however, a tweak to his knee saw him miss the semi-final defeat to Ghana and the third-place victory over Algeria.
Date of Birth: 22 November 1982
Height: 188 cm
Shirt number: 8
First international: Nigeria – Eritrea (22 April 2000)
A big, direct striker with a knack for finishing, Yakubu Aiyegbeni could offer an assertive and potentially decisive option upfront for Nigeria coach Lars Lagerback. Although the famous Everton player has struggled with injuries over the last few years, the man aptly known as ‘The Yak’ is currently one of the most experienced players in the Nigerian squad. Despite still being just 27 years old, Yakubu made his national team debut in April of 2000 and only narrowly missed out on a trip to the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. He is one of the last players left in the team that also played at the 2002 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, where he scored the winner in the third-place match.
After a bit part in the 2004 Cup of Nations, Yakubu missed the 2006 continental finals after a falling out with coach Austin Eguavoen. Nevertheless, he played a role in Nigeria’s unsuccessful qualifying campaign for Germany 2006, scoring twice in six contests. At the 2008 Cup of Nations, he started all four matches and scored twice as the Super Eagles went out to the host’s Ghana in the quarter-finals. Unfortunately, an Achilles injury at the end of 2008 meant he missed the rest of the season, and he was only getting back to fitness at Angola 2010. Nonetheless, he started four matches and scored a penalty kick goal.
Yakuba first turned up in Europe with Israel’s Maccabi Haifa in 1999, but after impressing on loan at Portsmouth in 2002 as the side won promotion to the Premier League, he was brought full-time to the club by Harry Redknapp. The goals kept coming at Pompey and then Middlesbrough, where he helped the team to the UEFA Cup final before becoming Everton’s most expensive signing at the beginning of the 2007 season. He scored 11 minutes into his debut for Everton and ended up with a career-best 21 goals in his first season. No Everton player had scored more than 20 goals in 15 years.
Date of Birth: 8 January 1982
Height: 179 cm
Shirt number: 7
First international: Namibia – Nigeria (16 June 2001)
A journeyman forward, John Utaka should bring pace and guile to the Super Eagles frontline at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. Since leaving the Nigerian domestic league for Egyptian club Arab Contractors in 1998 as a 16-year-old, Utaka has lined up for six clubs in four countries. His last port of call was an unhappy stint at relegated Portsmouth in England, so he will undoubtedly be looking for a new home. But his time at Pompey will also be remembered for winning the FA Cup in 2008, and he was the player that set up compatriot Nwankwo Kanu for the only goal in the 1-0 triumph over Cardiff.
A relative veteran at 28 years old, Utaka is also one of the few remaining Nigerians who competed at their last FIFA World Cup finals – a group stage exit at 2002 Korea/Japan. He played in one match in that event – a 2-1 defeat to a Sweden team led by new Nigeria coach Lars Lagerback – and became a key figure for the national team after that, most notably at the 2004 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. After scoring the winner in the final group match against Benin that cemented his team’s place in the knockout rounds, he played hero again in the quarter-finals – claiming the decisive goal in a 2-1 victory over defending champions Cameroon. Utaka converted a penalty kick in the post-match shootout defeat to hosts and eventual champions Tunisia in the semi-final as Nigeria ended up finishing third. He featured but failed to make as much impact as Nigeria replicated their bronze in the 2006 edition of the continental showpiece. He was a regular in the unsuccessful campaign to qualify for Germany 2006 and played all four matches at Ghana 2008, where the Super Eagles went out in the second round to the hosts. A difficult time with injuries and his club career saw him make only four appearances during the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying.
Date of Birth: 28 October 1984
Height: 170 cm
Shirt number: 9
First international: Republic of Ireland – Nigeria (29 May 2004)
The most consistently dangerous Nigeria striker when fit, Obafemi Martins, could be the wildcard that Nigeria coach Lars Lagerback needs to escape a tricky Group B at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa this summer. The forward can stretch a defense and put away goals at a healthy clip, which is explosive and deceptively powerful. The Super Eagles can thank the heroics of Martins for even reaching Africa’s first finals, an ironic twist for a star who has been in and out of favor with Nigeria over the years.
On the final day of qualifying in Africa, the Super Eagles needed to win their match in Kenya and have Tunisia drop points in Mozambique to avoid an inevitable public eruption upon missing out on another FIFA World Cup. With the score 1-0 to the hosts at half-time, then-coach Shaibu Amodu brought on Martins even though he’d only appeared in two previous preliminary matches. But the agile Lagos native with a flair for the dramatic proved that he was still a vital part of the team when he scored the equalizer and eventually a top-drawer winner in the 81st minute. A simultaneous Tunisia defeat and all of Nigeria celebrated the return of Obafemi.
But the up-and-down nature of the still-just 25-year-old’s time with the Nigerian national team was on display just a few months later at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year. Martins starred as a 21-year-old at the 2006 Cup of Nations, playing every minute of the six matches for the eventual third-place finishers. But his 2008 tournament was shortened by injury, and he also played a small role in Nigeria’s third-place finish at Angola 2010. Due to injury and a court date in England, he did not come on the pitch until the 67th minute of their third match against Mozambique, but he did score in the dying minutes of that 3-0 win. He again entered as a substitute in the next contest and then started against Ghana in the semi-final. But he was out of sorts in the last four crunch match, missing a handful of clear opportunities to change the 1-0 scoreline to the Black Stars.
Martins made his international debut in 2004 against the Republic of Ireland, scoring his first international goal that day. After that, he qualified for Germany 2006, tallying eight goals in the six matches. His most prolific period with the Super was a hat-trick against Algeria in Oran, followed by a brace against Zimbabwe in two consecutive games at the end of 2005, which gave way to his breakthrough at the 2006 Cup of Nations Eagles. In the summer of that year, Inter Milan sold Martins to Newcastle, where he “replaced” Alan Shearer. A successful three seasons in England – though somewhat hampered by injury – then gave way to a move to Wolfsburg, where he immediately settled in and started scoring goals this past season.
Date of Birth: 10 October 1988
Height: 180 cm
Shirt number: 10
Called up by Lars Lagerback as a late replacement for the injured John Obi Mikel, Brown Ideye could be seen as having big shoes to fill. However, it’s not an unusual position for the bustling forward with a powerful shot. Sochaux signed the 21-year-old earlier this year to cover up-front for US international Charlie Davies, who was seriously injured in a car accident. Whether he goes on to have the kind of positive impact he had in France remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that the youngster possesses loads of ability and has a bright future ahead of him.
Small and quick but powerful enough to hold off players, Ideye first caught the eye at the U-20 FIFA World Cup in 2007. The tournament in Canada was the player’s first trip abroad, but he was a significant player for the Eaglets that went to the quarter-finals. He did enough to land a move to Swiss club Neuchatel Xamax, where he repaid their faith with 23 goals over two-and-a-half seasons. His January move to Sochaux placed many expectations on his shoulders, and though he only scored five goals in 20 appearances, he was lively and dangerous, if a bit unlucky. As a result, he looks sure to have a more significant impact next season. But before then, he will be hoping to win his first cap for the Super Eagles at the FIFA World Cup and maybe even give the world another glimpse at what is undoubtedly another rising Nigerian star.
Date of Birth: 15 July 1981
Height: 181 cm
Shirt number: 11
First international: Nigeria – Kenya (4 May 2002)
On a Nigeria team likely to struggle with creativity in midfield, Peter Odemwingie’s direct running and incisive dribbling could be the thrust that the Super Eagles need to make their mark at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. His pace can menace defenses from both the wings or up top, and his talent and commitment to the cause have been such that he’s been as close as Nigeria has had to an omnipresent player since the mid-2000s. And luckily for Nigeria, his form with the national team may have hit a peak earlier this year at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, where he was perhaps the most influential player in the tournament’s group stage, claiming a double against Mozambique and tormenting more than a few defenders only for Nigerian finishing to come up lacking. He also seemed to accept more of a leadership role in the team and was eventually named to the Best XI of the tournament by CAF as the Super Eagles finished third in the event.
Odemwingie came to the attention of most Nigerians at a different Cup of Nations: the 2004 edition in Tunisia. In those continental finals, he scored two goals in the vital 4-0 win over South Africa that ultimately allowed Nigeria to qualify for the knockout rounds. However, his otherwise positive tournament is also associated with his decisive miss in the penalty shootout against eventual champions Tunisia in the semi-finals. Nevertheless, he redeemed himself in the third-place match with a 2-1 victory over Mali.
The player, who will turn 29 just after the finals in South Africa, was born in Uzbekistan but moved to Nigeria when he was an infant. His upbringing and soccer experience were split between the west African country, which was his father’s birthplace, and the former Soviet Union, and he still maintains dual citizenship. Around his national team debut, he landed in Europe with La Louviere in Belgium in 2002. A few positively regarded seasons later, he moved to Lille for some of their glory days in the French Ligue 1 and some UEFA Champions League experience before joining Lokomotiv Moscow in the summer of 2007.
He was a solid squad player at the 2006 and 2008 Cup of Nations and a vital over-age team member who won the silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Football Tournament. He played in all six matches in Beijing as the Nigerians lost only to Lionel Messi and Argentina in the final. He was also a regular team member that qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals, appearing ten times and scoring two goals. Despite a reputation for inconsistent performances, Odemwingie’s overall record in FIFA World Cup preliminary matches is excellent, winning 10 of 15 contests overall and not losing a single game.
Date of Birth: 25 March 1987
Height: 178 cm
Shirt number: 18
First international: Nigeria – Ghana (23 January 2006)
Date of Birth: 1 June 1986
Height: 181 cm
Shirt number: 19
First international: Libya – Nigeria (17 August 2005)
One of the vital attacking figures for the Nigerian teams that won silver medals at the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup and the 2008 Olympic Football Tournament, Chinedu Obasi’s star has done nothing but rise over the last half-dozen years. An exciting striker capable of bursting past defenders and blistering shots in from all over, Obasi racked up three goals at the U-20s in the Netherlands, including in the semi-final and final matches. It was an ironic tally for the player who was a ball boy at the same event when Nigeria hosted the U-20s in 1999. And Obasi made further headlines by scoring a brace in the last four in Beijing, a 4-1 defeat of Belgium.
Having spent two productive seasons in the Norwegian league at FC Lyn alongside friend John Obi Mikel, Obasi moved to ambitious German club Hoffenheim in 2007. He was a significant part of the team that climbed to the top of the Bundesliga table in the first half of the 2008 season, and his form has been such that major English Premier League teams have seldom been far from being linked to his transfer.
Due to turn 24 just before the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals, Obasi was not a regular feature in qualifying for South Africa. However, in September of last year, he appeared twice and was wasteful in front of goal in the 2-2 draw with Tunisia. For that reason, he was not expected to make then-coach Shaibu Amodu’s squad for the CAF Cup of Nations earlier this year in Angola. But a good run of form saw him called up at the expense of Michael Eneramo, and Obasi rewarded the Super Eagles with a rocket of a goal to open the scoring against eventual champions Egypt in their first match. Although Nigeria lost that contest, Obasi was one of the few players to earn positive notices. He started all six games for Nigeria – although his performances suffered as the tournament went on due to fatigue.