Nigeria have turned in determined performances all year long, seeking
to ensure they do not suffer the ignominy of a second successive failure to qualify for the FIFA World Cup™. After an unsettled period, and much soul searching, the Super Eagles are soaring again, setting their sights firmly on South Africa 2010.
They are also flying up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, having climbed five places in the November standings to a 2008-high of 22nd. In February, Nigeria plummeted down to 45th but have slowly made their way up, seemingly getting more confident with each passing game.
Missing out on Germany 2006 was a major psychological blow for Nigeria, who many believe have the best chance of becoming Africa's first FIFA World Cup winners. The country's vast playing resources ensure a consistent supply line of talent, but they have yet to live up to their potential.
Nigeria plummeted to arguably their lowest depth in decades with a lethargic performance at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2008, where they struggled through the group phase after failing to score in their opening two matches, before limping out against hosts Ghana despite taking the lead in their quarter-final.
However, the return of Shaibu Amodu back in the hot-seat, at the expense of the German Berti Vogts, sparked a run of competent performance that helped Nigeria become the first side to book their place in the final phase of African Zone qualifying for South Africa 2010. The Super Eagles were also the only team to finish the first round with a 100 per cent record, beating Bafana Bafana both home and away.
Nigeria's comfortable 4-1 win over Sierra Leone in Abuja in mid-October proved the catalyst in their five-place jump on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, and they now the third-highest African side.
Nigerians grace championships across the globe with their talent, from the English Premier League, French Ligue 1, German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A and Spanish La Liga to destinations in Asia, North America and eastern Europe. The likes of Nwankwo Kanu, John Obi Mikel, Obafemi Martins and Joseph Yobo provide the backbone of the national team, but there is new talent on the horizon too.
Included among recent new caps are Joseph Akpala, the striker from
Club Brugge in Belgium, and Chinedu Obasi from German surprise package
Hoffenheim. Amodu now has the added benefit of stiff competition for places, and was clearly of benefit during the penultimate phase of the African preliminaries for South Africa 2010.
Nigerian sights will now turn to the final stage of qualifying, starting with their opening Group B qualifier away to Mozambique in March.