Nigeria has a population of 154.7m (UN, 2009) making it the most populated country in Africa and the eighth most populated in the world. Football is undisputedly the number one sport in Nigeria and is widely popular, and, compared to the standards of many other countries in Africa there is a decent standard of sporting provisions. In 2009 Nigeria hosted the FIFA Under-17
To aid the country’s sporting development a National Institute of Sport was set up in Lagos for the training of sports administrators, Coaches and medical specialists. In October 2003 a technical centre in Abuja was approved for the development of young players. Approximately £65m was spent on developing sport in the country in 2009, with a large part of that spent on football. According to FIFA, over 6.5m people play football in Nigeria, of which only 58 710 are registered players. The standard of the Nigerian domestic league is poor compared to its European counterparts, with 52 clubs split into two divisions and few games attracting over 5 000 spectators. Of Nigeria’s provisional World Cup squad, just two play football in their home country – a reflection of the current level of development in the country.
The Nigerian national team is currently ranked 20th in the world, making them the second-best team in Africa, just one place behind Cameroon. They reached as high as fifth in the world in 1994, the same year they competed in their first World Cup finals, exiting in the second round. They also reached the 1998 and 2002 editions but failed to reach the most recent tournament in Germany. Nigeria’s golden moment came in 1996 when a team containing the likes of Jay Jay Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu won gold at the summer Olympics, beating both Brazil and Argentina on the way.
The Super Eagles made hard work of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup ., despite going through unbeaten, with a dramatic 3-2 win over Kenya in their final game seeing them edge through. The draw for the 2010 World Cup has been relatively kind for Nigeria and qualifying from the group should be an attainable target especially on their home continent. With a team from a weak-looking Group A next, the quarter-finals should not be beyond Nigeria’s reach. Dependence on them doing well, however, lies with a select group of experienced, technically gifted players. The back-bone of Nigeria’s team needs little introduction as they are mainly all established Premier League players. Everton pair Joseph Yobo and Aiyegbeni Yakubu have key roles at opposite ends of the pitch. The midfield sees Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel and Fulham’s Dickson Etuhu provide the steel to break opposition teams down. Strikers Obafemi Martins and Lokomotiv Moscow’s Peter Odemwingie are both capable of changing a game with a moment of brilliance.
In February former Sweden Coach Lars Lagerback was appointed to lead Nigeria through the World Cup . Previous incumbent Shaibu Amodu was sacked following the African Cup of Nations, despite leading Nigeria to a creditable third place. The experienced Lagerback beat off competition from the likes of Sven Goran Eriksson and Glenn Hoddle for the role. Lagerback was Coach of Sweden from 2000 to 2009, resigning after failing to qualify for the World Cup. He initially led the Swedes in partnership with Tommy Soderberg until 2004 when Lagerback took sole charge of the team, before leading Sweden to the 2006 World Cup and the 2008 European Championships but he made little impact on either tournament.
Nigeria play their home games at the Abuja National Stadium. This is a state-of-the-art sports stadium that can hold up to 60 000 people. Matches are often played in extremely hot and dusty conditions. The city of Abuja has an altitude of 2552 feet which is not dissimilar to some of the areas of South Africa.
In the past Nigeria have won the hearts of many neutrals with their adventurous attacking play. However under former Coach Amodu they favoured quite a conservative approach and that is likely to remain the same under Lagerback. His Sweden sides were generally set out to be solid, hard working and hard to beat. Sweden mainly used a 4-4-2 formation under Lagerback who needs to work on Nigeria’s discipline if they are to improve. Central midfielders Mikel and Etuhu will be charged with protecting the defence, allowing the full-backs to get forward to provide the width. Nigeria have some good players in attack with Yakubu and Martins likely to both start if fit. Other attacking talent like Odemwingie and Kalu Uche should provide further options from out wide. Overall, Nigeria would appear to be a better side going forward then they are in defence.