All eyes turn to Brazil this week for the start of the FIFA World Cup tournament, where five African nations, including Nigeria, will be competing. African teams have never advanced beyond the quarter-final rounds in any World Cup thus far, but they’ve provided some famous moments in soccer history over the years. Here are 10 things about Nigeria’s World Cup team.
1. African Nations Cup winners: They were the winner of the 2013 African Nations Cup, Nigeria’s World Cup team is known for its collective competence, rather than its individual, star power. Their core players consist of Premier Leaguers John Obi Mikel, Joseph Yobo, Peter Odemwingie, Shola Ameobi and Victor Moses.
2. Tough draw while not in the definitive Group of Death like Ghana, the teams that Nigeria will play against in this year’s World Cup aren’t any easier. They will be competing against tournament favorites in Argentina, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina and a defensively strong Iran.
3. How they got to Brazil: Nigeria played Malawi, Kenya and Namibia to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and did not lose any matches in the group stage, although they did draw three times, according to FIFA stats.
4. Not their first World Cup: The Nigerians have played in five of the last six World Cups, but haven’t made it past the quarter-finals qualifying rounds. Their first World Cup experience was 20 years ago in the U.S. and coincidentally it was also their highest scoring. On a side note, the 1994 World Cup is where Brazil became the first nation to win four World Cup titles when it beat Italy 3-2 in a penalty shootout.
5. FIFA World Cup finals history: The Nigerians first appeared on the World Cup stage in 1994, when they also had their highest-ranked finish ever in fifth place. They also made it to the second round of their second World Cup in 1998. Since then they have struggled, going out at the group stage twice while taking just two points from their last six matches in the finals, FIFA reports.
6. Super Eagles Know as the Super Eagles, the Nigerian team is led by head coach Stephen Keshi.
7. Ban-worthy? Nigeria’s reputation took a dive in the South Africa 2010 World Cup campaign under Lars Lagerback, when the team lost badly. Following the team’s World Cup performance, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan briefly attempted to suspend it from national competition for two years. The government rescinded the ban four days later after FIFA issued an ultimatum.
8. Who to Watch Coach Stephen Keshi has earned a reputation as a no-nonsense boss who’s not afraid to choose in-form domestic players at the expense of better-known international stars. That policy paid off when Nigeria won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, according to FIFA. Players to watch include John Obi Mikel (pictured above), Vincent Enyeama, Victor Moses, Ahmed Musa and Emmanuel Emenike.
9. Former Stars: Although Nigeria doesn’t have a lot of big playing in this year’s World Cup, former players for Nigeria include Jay Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, and Rashidi Yekini.
10. When to Watch: The Nigerian team will play Iran at 4 pm on June 16. It plays Bosnia and Herzegovina at 6pm on June 21st and World Cup favorites in a 1 pm match on June 25.