Nigeria confident for Brazil 2014

Ikechukwu Uche failed to make the Nigeria squad but coach Stephen Keshi believes his team can perform in Brazil.

    Emenike was Nigeria's top scorer when they won the African Cup of Nations in 2013 [GALLO/GETTY]
    Emenike was Nigeria's top scorer when they won the African Cup of Nations in 2013 [GALLO/GETTY]

    The average football supporter right now is torn between who has made his/her country's list for Brazil 2014 and who was dropped.

    Nigerian supporters are no different. The football-driven country is up in arms that their number one striker in Europe, Ikechukwu Uche of Villarreal, failed to make the 30-man list. Uche, with 14 goals in La Liga this season, is Nigeria's most productive striker in Europe. He was also a member of coach Stephen Keshi's winning Africa Cup of Nations team.

    So it should have been a no-brainer that Uche would be a part of the team after being away for a year? But he wasn't considered.

    "I have put that [omission] behind me now, because what transpired did not come as a big shock," Uche explained while also stressing that he had no hard feelings towards coach Keshi despite missing the World Cup, a competition he missed in 2010 as well.

    I have put that [omission] behind me now, because what transpired did not come as a big shock

    Ikechukwu Uche

    "I had the opportunity of speaking with the coach two weeks ago to understand the true situation. I guess there was a wrong perception. Sometimes your silence and body language could be misunderstood. I'm happy that we spoke at length and everything was ironed out. I wish the team all the best in Brazil, because that's all we want for the country."

    Even though he omitted Uche, Keshi confirmed they had the necessary conversation so both parties could move forward.

    "It's true we spoke and I explain what I expect from all my players,” Keshi said. “It probably took a long time to hear from him, which is too short a time to make a crucial decision. I don't have any problem with him and I told him that. Life is very short, so we can never say never in life."

    Moving forward

    Some weren’t even surprised that Uche was omitted. The coach had mentioned in a recent Al Jazeera interview that he was already moving forward. His focus was on the World Cup in a manageable group for one of the African teams expected to advance.

    "I have confidence in my players and my technical crew. We are not going to Brazil thinking about Argentina and their star players. We are neither worried about Iran or their unpredictability nor Bosnia who also have a point to prove in Brazil. We just want to go there and focus on our business."

    Business for the average Nigerian would be advancing from their group, but on more than one occasion [2002 and 2010] expectations have been high but the team failed to come close to what was set with an even more talented group.

    "Seriously, I can't say this is our particular target or what we want to do. All I can say is we are going there to make Nigeria and Africa proud.”

    Nigerians are savouring for a better World Cup. By winning the Nations Cup with a squad the fans complained about, the hope in the team has been restored. But Keshi won't leave anything to chance.

    "Our friendlies give us a chance to work on our tactical discipline and everything we need to do. We have a special team to keep us informed about our opponent so we are ready."

    Key player

    Emmanuel Emenike, 27, top-scorer when they won the African Cup of Nations in 2013. He scored two crucial goals in the play-off against Ethiopia. The Fenerbahce striker can drift out of games when starved of service, but his predatory instincts are undeniable.

    All I can say is we are going there to make Nigeria and Africa proud

    Stephen Keshi

    While Victor Moses and John Mikel Obi invariably grab the headlines, it is Ogenyi Onazi, 21, who controls the midfield. Onazi has seamlessly adapted to international football since making his debut in 2012 against Liberia. The Lazio defensive midfielder has been linked with a summer move Merseyside rivals Liverpool and Everton as well as Tottenham Hotspur.


    The problem is Nigeria has not won a World Cup game this millennium. Their last win was a slim 1-0 victory over an ageing Bulgaria side 16 years ago in France 1998.

    "We are in an exciting group. People say we have not won a game since 1998, the players are also aware so the hard work starts from our preparation [friendlies].”

    Keshi's team is packed with a huge number of players who have not played at the highest level. But once again, just like in 2013, he is confident in the team he has chosen and cannot wait to work with the players in a few weeks to properly assess a realistic World Cup target.

    "Bringing the players together for the camp in London [Nigeria face Scotland on May 28 in a friendly] will give us the opportunity to access the players closely and know who is ready and who is not."


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