We continue our World Cup countdown with Nigeria, whose new coach has been thrown in at the deep end.
Previous appearances in finals: Three
Best performance: Second round in 1994 and 1998
Coach: Lars Lagerback: Shaibu Amodu guided Nigeria to the finals (in his ninth stint as coach) but left in February due to his fractious relationship with the national federation. Lagerback stepped in and could hardly be a safer pair of hands, having spent a decade with Sweden in various capacities. Given just over 100 days to prepare for the World Cup, he has picked a squad of established names including Premier League stars Joseph Yobo, John Obi Mikel, Dickson Etuhu and Yakubu Ayegbeni.
John Obi Mikel (Chelsea). Age: 23. Midfielder. Elegant midfielder but his appearances for Nigeria to date have been mediocre and, at times, almost inconsequential.
Peter Odemwingie (Lokomotiv Moscow). Age: 28. Midfielder. Born in Uzbekistan to a Nigerian father and Russian mother, Odemwingie has been a persistently valuable performer for the Super Eagles and paid his dues with numerous calls up before settling into a permanent first team place. His pace ensures that he is a dangerous commodity for opposing defences.
Taye Taiwo (Olympique Marseille). Age: 25. Fullback. The left back has a powerful shot and has scored cracking goals from long range free kicks for both club and country. He is a past winner of the Young African Player of the Year award.
FIFA world ranking April 2010: 20th
How they qualified: Nigeria were on the brink of elimination in their penultimate qualifier in October when they scored a stoppage time winner against Mozambique to keep alive their chances. But they were still two points behind Tunisia on the final day of the preliminaries on Nov. 7 but won away in Kenya while Tunisia slipped to a surprise defeat in Mozambique.
Prospects: Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and therefore seen as the side with the best chance of being the first from the continent to win a World Cup. But they are in a crisis of confidence and also lack a player of genuine world class and creativity in the squad, a void left by the retirement of Jay-Jay Okocha.
Expert view: Adekunle Salami, The Punch newspaper: “Eagles manager Lars Lagerback has a huge task on his hand to pick the final list with just two friendly matches to play in London. The Swede is a good coach but in counting down to the event, one expects him to fashion out a style on how Nigeria can make it to the second round of the event. That is the immediate task. Some players know how to hide injury at crucial periods and such people should be sent packing without sentiments. The love of money is the root of all evils. The players donâ€˜t joke with their money and so it is expected that the NFF comes out to again make public details of the allowances and bonuses of the team. The current NFF board has never had issues on this but it is still important to avoid problems in camp over money matters. The World Cup is here, we need to work hard to avoid embarrassing the country in the global event.”
Provisional 30-man squad: Goalkeepers: Vincent Enyeama (Hapoel Tel Aviv), Dele Ayenugba (Beni Yehuda FC), Bassey Akpan (Bayelsa United), Austine Ejide (Hapoel Petah Tikva);
Defenders: Taye Taiwo (Marseille), Elderson Echiejile (Rennes), Chidi Odiah (CSKA Moscow) Onyekachi Apam (Nice), Joseph Yobo (Everton), Daniel Shittu (Bolton), Ayodele Adeleye (Sparta Rotterdam), Rabiu Afolabi (Salzburg), Peter Suswan (Lobi Stars);
Midfielders: Kalu Uche (Almeria), Dickson Etuhu (Fulham), John Obi Mikel (Chelsea), Sani Kaita (Alaniya), Lukman Haruna (Monaco), Ayila Yussuf (Dynamo Kiev), Peter Osaze (Lokomotiv Moscow);
Forwards: Yakubu Ayegbeni (Everton), Victor Anichebe (Everton), Chinedu Obasi (Hoffenheim), Nwankwo Kanu (Portsmouth), Obafemi Martins (Wolfsburg), Ideye Brown (Sochaux), Ikechukwu Uche (Zaragoza), John Utaka (Portsmouth), Peter Utaka (Odense), Victor Obinna (Malaga)