BY GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR
RATED as one of the countries likely to win the African Cup of Nations (CAN) 2010, Nigeria will parade a team with young, but tested players. The team comprises subtle scene-stealers, who are working their way to headlining.
On November 14, the team had done what many considered impossible to qualify for the World Cup, after trailing Tunisia by two points in the final round of the qualification series.
The Nigerian team is on a mission, and no stopping the boys, who are set to make the country’s golden jubilee year the best in sports.
Peter Osaze Odemwingie
On the sleigh, gentle shoulders of Peter Osaze Odemwingie lie Nigeria’s hope. Locomotive Moscow striker, 28 was voted Nigeria’s Footballer of the Year in the inaugural African Independent Television (AIT) Football Awards ceremony.
He was in sparkling form for Nigeria at the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign and was instrumental in the injury time goal that sank Mozambique, which gave Nigeria the confidence to continue with its challenge up to the final round.
Born of a Nigerian father and a Russian mother, Osaze made his full international debut a friendly against Kenya in May 2002, but it was until the 2004 Nations Cup in Tunisia that he really announced his arrival on the international scene with two well-taken strikes against South Africa.
Nigerian fans would also remember that the Super Eagles exited that particular tournament when he lost his own kick in the penalty shootout against the host nation in the semi-finals of the competition. However, since Osaze joined the U-23 team to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where Nigeria won silver medal, his game has changed considerably, making him one of the most trusted players in the team. Before now, many had considered Osaze, popularly called ‘Oyinbo’, as one who plays hot this game and cold the next.
Nwankwo Christian Nwosu Kanu
A few years back, Nwankwo Kanu would have been the automatic choice as the arrowhead of Nigeria’s challenge. But on a good day, themost decorated African footballer in history, having won a UEFA Champions League medal, a UEFA Cup medal, three FA Cup winners medals and two African Player of the Year awards, amongst others, is a deadly player.
Born August 1, 1976, in Owerri, Kanu, captain of the team, is the only current Premier League player to have won the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup, Premier League, FA Cup and an Olympic Gold Medal.
Kanu has been a member of the Nigerian national team since 1994, making his debut against Sweden in a friendly. He (as of October 18, 2009) has 79 caps and has scored 13 goals for his country. As well as winning the Olympics gold in the football event at Atlanta (1996), Kanu participated in the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. Earlier on at the start of his career, Kanu was instrumental in Nigeria’s overall success at the FIFA U-17 tournament in Japan (1993) and in their subsequent 2-1 victory over Ghana in the final.
Obafemi Akinwunmi Oshadi Martins
Obafemi Martins is one of the trusted strikers in the team. Known for his surging runs, blistering speed and pace. Martins appears a glimmer of gold among some otherwise rough diamonds.
Born on October 28,1984, Martins has scored 16 goals in 21 appearances for Nigeria. He was not only a part of the Nigerian team that finished third in the 2006 African Cup of Nations, Martins scored two goals in the competition, both coming against Senegal in the first round.
Martin scored a spectacular goal in the 83rd minute against Kenya in Nairobi, thus ensuring Nigeria’s qualification for 2010 FIFA World Cup.
John Michael Nchekwube Obinna
BORN in Jos as John Michael Nchekwube Obinna, Mikel John Obi is one of the country’s hopes in Angola.
Mikel gained global recognition in 2005 by starring at the FIFA World Youth Championship where Nigeria beat all opponents and made it to the final but lost to Argentina by 2–1. Obi won the silver ball after being voted the tournament’s second best player.
Mikel made his debut for Nigeria’s senior team on August 17, 2005, when he came on as a second-half substitute in a 1–0 friendly win over Libya. He did not play for the national team again prior to being named in the squad for the 2006 African Cup of Nations. In Nigeria’s first group game, which was against Ghana, Mikel was an unused substitute. However, he was introduced into the second game, against Zimbabwe, early in the second half.
Within 10 minutes of coming on, he had supplied both the corner that resulted in Christian Obodo heading the game’s opening goal, and scored Nigeria’s second goal. He made his first international start in Nigeria’s final group game, a 2–1 victory over Senegal. During the cup, Mikel said that he had been instructed not to make any public comments about his club career. FIFA is to investigate claims that Obi had received death threats.
During the 2008 African Nations Cup in Ghana, he scored 1 goal and registered one assist, both against Benin Republic, to help Nigeria qualify for the quarterfinals against hosts, Ghana where they narrowly lost 2–1.
Daniel Olusola “Danny” Shittu
Danny” is a central defender and one of the oldest in the team. Born On September 2,1980, Shittu had a good game in Ghana 2008 and is one of the respected players in the team.
Of the 23 players listed, three are making their debut. They are Elderson Echiejile, Yusuf Mohammed and Chinedu Obasi.
Vincent Enyeama, who was not in goal in Ghana, is the team’s number one choice for that position. Bamidele Aiyenugba and Austin Ejide are other goalkeepers in the team.
For the defence, we have Taye Taiwo, Joseph Yobo, Elderson Echiejile, Danny Shittu, Obinna Nwaneri, Onyekachi Apam, Chidi Odiah and Yusuf Mohammed.
In the midfield are Dickson Etuhu, Sani Kaita, Oluwaseyi Olofinjana, Mikel Obi, Nwankwo Kanu, Yusuf Ayila and Kalu Uche.
Osaze Odemwingie, Obafemi Martins, Chinedu Obasi, Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Obinna Nsofor will provide the striking option.