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Thursday, June 5, 2014

The FIFA World Cup Team Runthrough Thread #1 For 6/5/14: #24 Nigeria

Photo from Soccer Room Today

Projected Formation 

                Enyema 
         
 Ambrose  Yobo Omeuro   Elderson  
  
                  Mikel 
         
           Onazi       Moses 

                   Musa                  
             
    Emenike         Odemwingie 


The Runthrough

Stephen Keshi is one manager who isn't shy at displaying a strong, unwavering personality. That fact was fully on display when he chose to leave out Villarreal star Ike Uche for not just his final 23 man team but even the 30-man provisional squad. In fact, Keshi made sure not to sugar coat his opinions for a man who may garner the label of African football's most underrated striker at the moment. Last November, he gave a firm scathing of Uche to Supersport.

"Uche has a very bad habit," Keshi said. "If you put him in the game, he won’t play to instructions. He did that in the final of 2013 AFCON game against Burkina Faso; he almost cost us that match. Again, he did that against Zambia, in the second match when Efe Ambrose was given a red card. He was doing the opposite of what we told him to do. And if you don't respect your team mates and you don't respect the team, then there is no point. I know he cannot do that in his club. Then, why do it in the national team? I don't think I need a player like that in the team,"

Keshi expressed his frank thoughts this week about another prominent international missing out on his final 23, saying that 2013 Africa Cup of Nations hero Sunday Mba failed to "show the hunger, the fight" his coaching staff wanted to see from him. And after Tuesday nights' 0-0 draw with Greece, the 52-year-old coach expressed his displeasure with his side's performance. 

"It's a game we should have won easily, but here we are not playing to our style," he said. "We play possession football and press the opposition to give up, but we didn't do that till towards the end of the game. However, it's part of the learning curve and we will get there before the world Cup starts." 

Keshi has to be careful not to alienate his players with his vocal strength as his nation are desperate to advance out of the group stage for the first time since 1998.  And once again, just like they were in 2002 and 2010, they are drawn in the same group as Argentina with Bosnia & Herzegovina their firm rivals for second place (Iran is the 4th member of Group F and expected to finish last). 

Without Uche, Obafemi Martins, 25-year-old Aide Brown Ideye or Yakubu in his fold despite all four talented, forward being still in their primes, Keshi  saw his mostly young side win the Africa Cup of Nations and compete well at the Confederations Cup last year. Only four players on the final roster to Brazil are over 30, although each trentagenarian will play a vital role to whether they succeed or not. 

Since the last World Cup,  31-year-old Vincent Enyeama could make a claim as to being the most underrated goalkeeper on the planet. A move away from Hapoel Tel Aviv to Lille has placed Enyeama under a deserved larger stage and comes into the tournament firmly as Africa's best net minder. 

A man Enyeama has played with for a long time is captain Joseph Yobo, who showed that his 33-year-old centerback body still has something left in the tank to perform at the high level in his loan stint with Norwich City this year. If Yobo is to get the starting nod at the centerback, he will partner with physical specimen Efe Ambrose, who helped lead Celtic to another Scottish title. But Keshi may go with 20-year-old prodigy Kenneth Omeruo, who while at 19 became a vital member of that 2013 African Cup of Nations triumph and could easily become his generation's Yobo (or better). 

The fullback list is nowhere near as strong for Keshi. Leftback Elderson hasn't received many minutes in his move to Monaco, and may have to play rightback with his team lacking a true established international at that position. There is a possibility that could see Ambrose move to right back with Yobo and Omeuro becoming the centerback pairing, with Elderson on the left. It is a move that Keshi will have to ponder as Nigerian domestic league based 24-year-old defenders Azubuike Egwuekwe and Kunie Oduniami are not good enough to be starters at this level right now. 

The questions at the back will place greater emphasis on a midfield with players use to having high expectations. John Obi Mikel may have fallen down the picking order at Chelsea but still is valued by Jose Mourinho thanks to his combo ability of physical play and sound passing. He is still very much their heart and soul in the middle and will have a few defining encounters against Javier Mascherano (Argentina), Miralem Pjanic (Bosnia & Herzegovina), and Javad Nekounam (Iran) in this group.  

Mikel will be aided by two more precocious players in this Nigerian side in Ogenyi Onazi and Victor Moses. Moses was a secondary cast member in Liverpool's great return to prominence this year and will look to show why his electric pace and smooth movement makes him still  highly regarded at just 23. Moses' last two years of unspectacular moments with Chelsea and on loan at Anfield where closely observed by Onazi, who at 21 hopes to avoid stagnation. Onazi had those expected up and down moments for Lazio in their disappointing Serie A campaign, but showed flashes of midfield prominence to have Brendan Rodgers' outlet interested in him. 

A strong showing will add to those list of clubs seeking Onazi's move from Lazio and will facilitate the likely front three of Peter Odemwingie, Ahmed Musa, and Emanuel Emenike. Once maybe thinking his international career would also be curtailed early, Odemwingie is one of the four over 30 members of the squad and justified his return to the national side after his move from Cardiff to Stoke City in January. The half- Russian Odemwingie had success playing in his mother's homeland at Lokomotiv Moscow, something that Musa is experiencing right now with CSKA. Like Onazi, Musa is exhibiting expected maturity development at age 21 with his inconsistent finishing, but has the tactical sense to make key one-touch passes and track back if his side loses the ball. 

Also experiencing fine moments in the Kremlin is Emenike, and he has followed that move away from Spartak Moscow to Fenerbahce with more success. After firmly being outside the national team picture the last World Cup cycle, Emenike has manufactured a fine rise for himself that included being join top scorer of that African Cup of Nations triumph in 2013.  Featuring a decent right foot, the 27-year-old is more comfortable with dropping out of the center and coming outside to be a target man who sets up midfield runners and strike partners, giving himself added importance to an outlet that doesn't play with a central midfield playmaker. The one major weakness in Emenike's game is his lack of world class pace, but it does not prevent him from being active throughout a match. 

With how Musa and Odemwingie like to play off a main target man, Emenike's importance increases and Keshi will hope that his versatile forward is up to the several tasks he assigns of him. 

Outside of now ex-Newcastle forward Shola Ameobi, the bench options include young players  who are limited in their abilities to spark Nigeria's campaign. Ramon Azeez scored one of the massive goals in Almeria's season against Real Betis last month to keep his club in La Liga but still has a lot of growth left in his development to be a consistent factor. The same holds true for Michael Babtunde, another 21-year-old in the squad who will only see playing time if Moses or Odemwingie suffer injury. Mid 20's pair Michael Uchebo and Uche Nwofor are nowhere near as talented as Martins or Ike Uche, but are in the good graces of Keshi for team chemistry. 

Nigeria are hopeful that the omissions of those globally recognized players won't hurt them in finding a way past Bosnia & Herzegovina, as both sides should dispense of Iran but need a miracle to upset title contenders Argentina in Group F. But Keshi has to understand that his side may not be good enough to play the "have the ball at all times" football that he likes, something that could have been avoided if his unwavering mentality was flexible. 


Nevertheless, this Nigerian side and is outlet aren't settling on getting to the knockout stages. The likes of Moses stated that he believes Nigeria has a great chance to make the semifinals. The African Cup of Nations title and a smooth qualifying campaign has given this team that lofty belief. But a perfect tournament from them will be the only way those ambitions could unfold. 

Under The Radar, Key Players: 

Ambrose and Omuero: At least one is guaranteed to start and maybe both statuesque youngsters could factor in the opening match against Iran and especially against the other two stronger teams in Group F. Though the all time caps leader Yobo certainly may come in, Omeuro has the upside to be a top class defender. It's why Chelsea has the 20-year-old on their books. But if he does play against the likes of Dzeko and then Messi, Aguero, Higuain, and Di Maria, he will have to show precocious top class centerback play real fast. It will be the only way they advance out of the group. 




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