As African football has improved in depth, Nigeria found qualifying for both the continental and global stage more difficult. They failed to reach the finals of the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, a rarity, as well as the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ after three consecutive finals appearances. Success in the 2013 AFCON finals, where they won their last four contests after two opening draws, saw the Super Eagles qualify for their first-ever FIFA Confederations Cup proper.
The current crop
Former Super Eagles captain turned coach Stephen Keshi did not shy away from dropping several big-name stars and introducing domestic-based players in pursuit of a first African title since 1994. In the AFCON finals in South Africa one of these players, Sunday Mba, proved all naysayers wrong by scoring the side's match-winner against both the pre-tournament favourites Côte d'Ivoire in the quarter-finals, as well as against Burkina Faso in the final. The breakthrough seemed to ring the bell for a young generation of talent bursting through the ranks, but there is also a fair bit of established international-calibre talent for Nigeria to call on. However, for a team notorious for dramatics, team spirit was very high after the victory in Johannesburg, so a delicate balance is surely needed.
The key players
Remarkably, the Super Eagles had just two outfield-players older than 25 in their 2013 AFCON squad. One of those only 25 at the time, John Obi Mikel established himself as the most influential player in the side despite many up and down years with the national team. The Chelsea midfielder has grown into the leadership role that has seen him become an integral member of the team, along with his club-mate Victor Moses, who is a flamboyant menace on the wings. Other rising figures include striker Emmanuel Emenike, joint top-scorer at the AFCON, and Celtic defender Efe Ambrose.
Coach: Stephen Keshi
Best performances in a FIFA competition: FIFA U-17 World Cup China 1985 (Winners), FIFA U-17 World Cup Japan 1993 (Winners), FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea Republic 2007 (Winners), Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Atlanta 1996 (Winners)
Former stars: Mudashiru Lawal, Jay-Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Finidi George, Rashidi Yekini, Stephen Keshi, Daniel Amokachi.