Super Eagles aim high

Under new coach, Nigerians look to get back to winning ways

Super Eagles aim high

Gearing up: Nigerian winger Peter Odemwingie will be the key to his team’s World Cup plans. A change of coach only months before the finals in South Africa, however, disrupted preparations for the Super Eagles and the incoming Lars Lagerback had little time to get to know his squad.

Lagerback, who took his native Sweden to the last two World Cups, has been charged with giving Nigeria back a winning edge, something that was missing at their last tournament, the African Nations Cup finals in January in Angola.There they limped along, devoid of confidence and disjointed in their approach. It took several turns of good fortune for them to reach the semifinals but they never looked potential winners. When they went home with bronze medals, coach Shaibu Amodu was fired.

Nigeria have advanced past the opening group stage twice in their three previous World Cup finals appearances, evidence of the potential of Africa's most populous nation.
This time they are drawn in Group B, where Argentina are the favourites but both Greece and South Korea are seen as beatable.

Nigeria demolished the Greeks in the United States in 1994 when both countries were making their maiden World Cup finals appearance. Nigeria have been unable to find anyone to successfully fill the midfield playmaking role previously occupied by Jay-Jay Okocha and Sunday Oliseh.

The current squad have an excess of defensively-minded, ball-winning, holding midfielders but none who have the ability to dictate the pace of the game from behind the forward line, spray incisive passes and set up clever opportunities.

This leaves the formidable strike pairing of Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Obafemi Martins without the service to match their ability. Nigeria does have strong attacking players on the flanks to unlock defences and a tough defensive unit, albeit prone to the occasional extravagant gaffe.Fullback Taye Taiwo, who lost his place during the Nations Cup but is still expected to be a starter for Nigeria's opener against Argentina on June 12, has a formidable shot that is most effective at free kicks.

Vital part in Nigerian set-up
Peter Odemwingie was spoilt for choice when it came to playing international football but has opted for Nigeria and the winger has been key to the Super Eagles' World Cup plans.

Born to a Russian mother and a Nigerian father in Tashkent, then part of the Soviet Union but now the capital of an independent Uzbekistan, the young Odemwingie shaped his early footballing career on both continents. As a 15-year-old he was signed by CSKA Moscow and spent two years in an academy in the Russian capital but when his doctor father decided to return to Nigeria, the family followed.

Odemwingie took two more years to break into the top flight in Nigeria, playing at Bendel Insurance. An immediate impact, with nine goals in 10 matches, led to Odemwingie being named on the shortlist of players for the 2002 World Cup, but he was dropped from the final squad. Odemwingie then went on sign for another Belgian club, La Louviere.
His first break for the Super Eagles came in 2004 at the Nations Cup finals in Tunisia where two goals against South Africa, after he came on as a substitute, confirmed his growing reputation.

Now 28 and playing for Lokomotiv Moscow, Odemwingie has been a perennial member of the national squad since 2004 and is closing in on 50 caps.

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