Nigeria: Nigeria announce return to global football with qualification for Russia 2018 (News analysis by Vincent Obi, PANA Editor)

Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) - Alexander Chuka Iwobi’s 73rd-minute score was all Nigeria needed on Saturday to reach their sixth World Cup Finals.

After years of struggling to get there, the 1994 finals in the US became Nigeria’s first appearance, followed by France 1998, South Korea/Japan 2002, South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014.

The journey to Russia 2018 began on 24 June 2016, after the Confederation of African Football (CAF) released the draws for the 3rd round of the World Cup qualifiers. Those fixtures grouped Nigeria in what was described the “group of death”; alongside Zambia, Algeria, and Cameroon.

The Super Eagles recorded a 2–1 win over Zambia in Ndola and went on to defeat Algeria 3–1 in the second group stage at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State.

They went on to beat the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon 5–1 home and away and now, even with Day 6 matches still to be played, qualified for Russia 2018 after Saturday’s 1-0 win over Zambia, becoming the first African team to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

This means that the Day 6 matches will be of no effect whatsoever on the placings since Zambia, Cameroon and Algeria have already been eliminated from contention.

In 1994, under the management of Clemens Westerhof, Nigeria topped their group which included Argentina, Bulgaria, and Greece; defeating Bulgaria 3–0, losing 1-2 to Argentina, and reached the second round following a 2–0 victory over Greece.

Staying within two minutes of reaching the quarter-finals in 1994 in the game against Italy, Roberto Baggio, with his ponytail hairdo, scored to take the game to extra time. He also scored the eventual winning goal and Nigeria regrettably bowed out 2-1 in favour of the Italians.

Returning to the global stage four years later (1998), Nigeria alongside Cameroon, Morocco, Tunisia, and South Africa, flew Africa’s flag in France. The Bora Milutinović-managed Super Eagles, playing in Group D with Spain, Bulgaria, Paraguay, scored a major upset by defeating Spain 3–2 after coming back twice.

Nigeria qualified for the second round with a win against Bulgaria and a loss to Paraguay. The team’s hopes of surpassing its 1994 performance was shattered after a 1–4 loss to Denmark.

The Super Eagles were expected to build on their strong performances in the 2000 and 2002 African Cup of Nations. Drawn in Group F with powerhouses Sweden, Argentina, and England, Nigeria bowed out in the first round with losses to Argentina, Sweden and a draw against England.

Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany after finishing level on points in the qualification group with Angola, but having an inferior record in the matches between the sides.

On 14 Nov. 2009, Nigeria qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. They lost their opening match against Argentina 1–0; lost 2-1 to Greece, the same score-line with which they lost to South Korea in the last group match.

In Brazil, the Super Eagles’ campaign opened with a disappointing 0–0 draw with Iran. Four days later the Nigerians, against Bosnia and Herzegovina, won their first world cup victory since 1998.

They later progressed to the round of 16, where they faced France with a Paul Pogba header in the 79th and an own goal by Captain Joseph Yobo in injury time put the result beyond any doubt – Nigeria was out again, the third time Nigeria was eliminated in the round of 16 and they were not still able to enter the Quarter-finals in the FIFA World Cup.

Drawing from these ups and downs, Nigeria must be ready to improve in Russia, depending on their group opponents.

Of the 11 teams through to Russia 2018, the hosts, Brazil, Mexico, Germany and England can be considered the powerhouses.

Nigeria should be lucky to avoid any of these teams in the quest for progression to the next round. But, the key to success is early preparation and the harnessing of the abundant playing talents across the country and in the diaspora.
-0- PANA VAO/AR 8Oct2017

08 october 2017 15:15:59

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