African champion, Nigeria, has a realistic chance of advancing out of the group stage if the coach uses the right starting lineup.
Since taking over the managerial position in 2011, Stephen Keshi has carried Nigeria to new heights. In 2013, the former Super Eagles defender won the nation its first African Cup of Nations since 1994. The softly spoken coach has infused some technicality and passing intellect into Nigeria’s style of play.
Although he left some game changers off his preliminary World Cup roster, the 52-year-old has selected several world-class players. Goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama, headlines the 30 man list, which also includes John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses.
Occupying the same group as Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iran, Keshi has to start these 11 players if he wishes to make it to the knockout stage.
Goalkeeper: Vincent Enyeama
The 31-year-old had a phenomenal season with Lille in Ligue 1. At a certain point, Enyeama didn’t concede a goal for over 1,060 minutes. According to squawka.com, the Nigerian finished the season with 20 clean sheets from 37 games.
Nigeria’s last line of defense is one of the best shot stoppers in the world. Just under six feet tall, the experienced goalkeeper uses his catlike reflexes to make unbelievable saves.
Right Back: Efe Ambrose
Usually deployed in the middle of the defense at Celtic, Ambrose versatility makes him Keshi’s most reliable option on the right side. The tall defender is a safe bet on the defensive end, but he’s rarely an option offensively.
Center Backs: Godfrey Oboabona and Kenneth Omeruo
Even though legendary center back Joseph Yobo was included in the squad, Omeruo and Oboabona should start because they have chemistry. The two played together at the nation’s cup and 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.
Both center backs are enforcers. The youngsters use their powerful frame to body up forwards and they rarely lose a foot race. They also fit well into Keshi’s style of play because they are comfortable with the ball at their feet.
Left back: Elderson Echiejile
Monaco’s fullback is an attack minded defender who enjoys cutting inside and having a crack at goal. Physically, the 26-year-old is bigger than most outside backs. His size and speed makes him an excellent all around footballer.
Defensive midfielders: John Obi Mikel and Ogenyi Onazi
Mikel is guaranteed a spot in the middle, but he needs to be partnered up with Lazio’s rising star, Onazi. Both midfielders are hard-working, technical and they played against world-class talents at their respective clubs.
At Chelsea, Mikle plays as the man sitting right in front of the backline, but when he puts Nigerian colors, he is more of a box-to-box midfielder. He is the center of the Super Eagles’ game plan, which is why he needs a more defensive minded player like Onazi beside him.
Attacking midfielder: Victor Moses
Due to Nigeria’s lack of creative midfielders, Moses has to start in the middle. The Chelsea winger is one of the most technically gifted players in the side, and combined with his burst of pace, he would fit perfectly in front of Mikel and Onazi.
Wingers: Ahmed Musa and Peter Odemwingie
Musa’s inclusion on this list isn’t a surprise because he is the most dynamic player in the squad; however, Odemwingie’s insertion might surprise a few. The veteran forward hasn’t been involved with the national team for a while, but his resurgence at Stoke City earned him a call-up.
After a slow start to the 2013/2014 season with Cardiff City, Odemwingie returned to top form at Stoke. The 32-year-old scored five goals in 15 appearances for the Potters. His form, experience and ability to play out-wide, makes him a necessity in the starting eleven.
Forward: Emmanuel Emenike
2013 African Cup of Nations top scorer is guaranteed a spot in the starting lineup. He is by far the best forward in the preliminary squad. He’s a fast, powerful and skillful center forward that has a reputation of finding the back of the net.