Today we take a look at Group F, beginning with African representatives Nigeria as the AFCON champions aim to take their continental success onto the international stage.
It’s been 16 years since Nigeria last made it to the knockout stages of the tournament, and Stephen Keshi’s men will be quietly confident they will be able to do so in Brazil, despite a tough group containing Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran.
Qualification: W 5, D 3, L 0
Previous World Cup appearances: 4
Best World Cup finish: Round of 16 (1994, 1998)
Current FIFA ranking: 44
Coach: A hero back home, Stephen Keshi is one of only two footballers to have won the African Cup of Nations as both a player and a coach. The 52-year-old has been in charge of the Super Eagles since 2011, and is aiming to replicate his continental success on the world stage.
Captain: Lille’s Vincent Enyeama is a mainstay in the Nigerian line-up, and is fast-approaching 100 caps since making his debut 12 years ago. He will definitely be aiming to better his side’s 2010 performance, where Nigeria managed only one point in a group that again included Argentina, against whom they narrowly lost 1-0, Enyeama receiving the man of the match award in that game for a host of fine saves.
Key player: Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel is hoping to make a success out of his first World Cup appearance, having missed Nigeria’s campaign in South Africa four years ago due to injury.
Beginning his career in his native Nigeria, followed by short stints in Norway and South Africa at Ajax Cape Town, Mikel became highly sought-after and was captured by his current Premier League side Chelsea in 2006.
A hard-working midfielder, Mikel grew in leaps and bounds in London and has become a mainstay in the middle of the park for his club, featuring in more than 30 games in each of his eight seasons with the Blues. Deployed predominantly as a defensive midfielder, Mikel is aggressive and fearless in the tackle, breaking up play and hounding opponents in possession. His strength on the ball and good distribution make him useful in both the team’s defensive and offensive plays, yet his goal-scoring ability leaves much to be desired, scoring just nine for both club and country combined in over 350 matches.
The two-time African and Chelsea Young Player of the Year made his debut for Nigeria in 2005, and now at 27 years of age, is a senior in the national squad. He was part of the Super Eagles’ championship-winning Africa Cup of Nations squad in 2013, and also featured in all three of Nigeria’s Confederations Cup games in Brazil last year, snatching a goal in a loss to Uruguay as the African giants failed to progress from the group stages.
Key fixture: Nigeria will be looking for all three points over a tough Bosnian side in their second fixture as they target qualification for the knockout phase of the tournament.
16 June, 21:00 Iran vs Nigeria
22 June, 00:00 Nigeria vs Bosnia-Herzegovina
25 June, 18:00 Nigeria vs Argentina
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