For a player who nearly missed out on selection for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, Chinedu Obasi has covered enough ground to hopefully secure a place for himself in Nigeria's squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
The 23-year-old forward competed in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2003 before winning silver medals at the FIFA U-20 World Cup two years later and at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament in 2008. He has been flirting with a regular place in the senior side for a good while, and although he only snatched a place on the plane to Angola 2010 at the 11th hour, Obasi seized his chance in style, impressing as the Super Eagles finished third.
Nigeria have since enmeshed themselves in the quest for a coach who will mastermind success in South Africa, which is something the Hoffenheim player is eager to help his country achieve. “Whenever you put on the Nigeria jersey, there is pressure,” Obasi told FIFA.com. “But for me, the more I play, the better. I want to contribute to the success of this team.”
A speedy attacker known as 'Edu', Obasi admits Nigeria will have to improve on their recent performances in order to realise their ambitions at the 19th edition of the FIFA World Cup. With the demotion of coach Shaibu Amodu and the search for his successor, the last few months have been trying, and it is only apt that they intend to embark on some serious soul-searching before arriving on the world stage in June. Since they missed out on Germany 2006, Nigeria’s qualification for South Africa 2010 was greeted by euphoria on the streets of Abuja and Lagos, although they required an unexpected slip-up from Tunisia - namely a defeat in Mozambique in their final preliminary - to sneak through.
Despite a third-placed finish, Angola 2010 did little to appease Nigeria's critics. A 3-1 loss to eventual champions Egypt had pointed questions from the very start and, although he broke the deadlock with a brilliant strike in that game, Obasi concedes the team's display was lacklustre.
“If we are honest with ourselves, we didn’t perform as we expected to,” reflected Obasi, who was eventually named one of the tournament’s best 23 players by the CAF. “I know the frustrations from our fans back home who wanted us to win this tournament.
"In Nigeria, people expect us to win games, they are passionate about football. This on its own is pressure, but we understand. We didn’t play good football at the start of the Cup of Nations, I can’t point fingers as to what exactly led to that, but we all knew that we were not playing well.”
Obasi, who was a ball boy when Nigeria hosted the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 1999, believes there is plenty of time for Nigeria to pull together and make a major impact at South Africa 2010. “We just need to work a bit harder and improve on our shortcomings,” he said.
“Obviously we went to Angola to win the Nations Cup. We wanted to be the top team in Africa again, but things didn’t go according to plan. Life is like that: sometimes you plan for something and it doesn’t turn out the way you had planned it. The World Cup has to be different for us because there is so much at stake.”
After a difficult draw placed them in Group B, Nigeria will kick off their account against two-time world champions Argentina in Johannesburg. Tricky encounters against Greece and Korea Republic will follow, but Obasi believes the opener against La Albiceleste is key to his side's chances of reaching the Round of 16.
“We know that we will have a tough job at the World Cup,” he said. “We are up against some tough teams like Argentina, with top players like (Lionel) Messi. It’s important for us to prove that we can play our own game against the best.”