Nigeria World Cup PreviewPosted: Monday May 27, 2002 7:05 PM
How they line up
There is plenty of flair, a lot of speed and some exquisite footwork at Nigeria's disposal, mainly in the form of Nwankwo Kanu's size 14s. Progress at the World Cup, however, will depend on just how they put it all together.
At this year's African Nations Cup finals in Mali, something of a pattern for the team emerged, but the subsequent change in coaching personnel means all studies of the lineup have to be started again.
Predicting how Nigeria will play and who will be entrusted with the various tasks remains guess work as new coach Adegboye Onigbinde continues to experiment just weeks away from the finals.
Ordinarily, Ike Shorunmu should have little opposition for the goalkeeping jersey, but his dispute with Besiktas of Turkey last summer left him without club action until March, when he joined Lucerne in Switzerland. His rustiness showed at the Nations Cup with some jittery performances. Onigbinde has said Shorunmu remains first choice but has used Austin Ejide in recent games and also called up Ademola Bankole of Crewe Alexandra for training.
Joseph Yobo is a certain starter at right full-back and Celestine Babayaro should be the man out on the left, although his season at Chelsea has been disrupted by an upper thigh strain.
Ifeanyi Udeze and Isaac Okoronkwo would be the strongest central pairing but there are also strong claims from Emeka Ifejiagwa and Eric Ejiofor. Taribo West is not out of contention, despite a lack of club action, and Kyiv Dynamo's Lucky Idakhor should also make the squad.
Sunday Oliseh is most effective slotting in just in front of the back four, although he has often been employed as sweeper.
Pius Ikedia has emerged as a strong candidate for the right-hand side of the midfield, having missed the trip to Mali. Austin Okocha, in the center of the pitch, is the would-be orchestrator of the team. If Okocha is on song, as he was at France 98, then group rivals Argentina, England and Sweden must beware. Midfield options include two Belgium-based players -- Royal Antwerp youngster Justice Christopher and Blessing Kaku of Gent.
Nigeria are likely to have three players in the front line -- Kanu and PSG starlet Bartholomew Ogbeche as strikers, and Julius Aghahowa to the left of them, dropping back when needed and also cutting in from deep.
This leaves no place for the experienced Finidi George and Tijani Babangida, two natural wide men, although they could present options off the bench.
Striking substitutes should include the strong Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Benedict Akwuegbu, who was unlucky not to have been selected to go to Mali. Giant forward Victor Agali, who promised so much in the qualifying campaign, looks to have gone off the boil at club level with Schalke and has not been a regular contender for the Nigerians in their eight games played so far this year.
From World Soccer magazine.