Familiar foe lies in wait for Nigeria at World Cup

Familiar foe lies in wait for Nigeria at World Cup

Nigeria are the only African team returning to the World Cup finals after playing in Brazil four years ago and must get past a familiar foe if they want to reach the second round again.

Nigeria have been paired with Argentina for the fifth time in six World Cup appearances, having finished second to Lionel Messi and his team in their group at the 2014 finals and advancing to the last 16, where they lost to France.

Experienced fullback Elderson Echiejile, whose career has been languishing in the Belgian second division, and Simeon Nwankwo, who has recently won his first cap, were both included as Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr on Sunday finalised his 23-man squad for the World Cup.

Echiejile has played just twice since been loaned to Cercle Brugge in January but is set for a second World Cup after playing for Nigeria at the 2010 finals in South Africa. He was an unused substitute against England in the 2-1 loss at Wembley on Saturday, having been brought back into the squad last month.

The 30-year-old, previously on the books of Monaco, was injured in a warm-up friendly before the 2014 tournament and missed out on the last finals in Brazil.

Five players — John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses, Ahmed Musa, Kenneth Omeruo, Ogenyi Onazi — were also in the squad for the 2014 World Cup

Getting past the group stage is the minimum target for Nigeria but they will also have to get the better of tough European pair Croatia and Iceland if they are to advance.

The Super Eagles are not short on confidence going into the tournament after defeating Argentina 4-2 in a friendly in Krasnodar last November and beating Poland away in March.

They also had to come through a World Cup qualifying group that included Algeria, who also got to the last 16 in Brazil, Zambia, and reigning African champions Cameroon.

The German coach, whose quiet demeanour belies a steely approach, has successfully brought order and routine to a previously chaotic set-up. He has also elevated emerging talent quickly into key roles in the team.

As part of a smoother, stronger administrative set-up this time around, Nigeria have implemented an extensive World Cup warm-up schedule, which included a match against England at Wembley on June 2, which they lost 2-1.

They have also attempted to head off the distractions that have hampered previous campaigns, notably arguments over money.

But the team always carry an unrealistic burden of expectation when they go to the World Cup, with the vast majority of Nigeria’s population of 186 million demanding some measure of success.

Nigeria have advanced past the first round three times but never reached the last eight — which remains the benchmark of African achievement at the World Cup.

Nigeria open their World Cup Group D campaign against Croatia in Kaliningrad on June 16.

Squad:

No. Pos. Player Name

1 GK Ikechukwu Ezenwa

2 DF Brian Idowu

3 DF Elderson Echiejile

4 MF Wilfred Ndidi

5 DF William Ekong

6 DF Leon Balogun

7 FW Ahmed Musa

8 MF Oghenekaro Etebo

9 FW Odion Ighalo

10 MF John Obi Mikel

11 FW Victor Moses

12 DF Shehu Abdullahi

13 FW Simeon Nwankwo

14 FW Kelechi Iheanacho

15 MF Joel Obi

16 GK Daniel Akpeyi

17 MF Ogenyi Onazi

18 FW Alex Iwobi

19 MF John Ogu

20 DF Chidozie Awaziem

21 DF Tyronne Ebuehi

22 DF Kenneth Omeruo

23 GK Francis Uzoho