Rabiu Afolabi’s call-up by coach Lars Lagerback for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ was both surprising and nostalgic. The 30-year-old defender has long been out of the reckoning for the Super Eagles, particularly under previous manager Shaibu Amodu. But he was once a rising star for the west Africans, and his place in South Africa marks something of a return to the fold for the Osogbo native. Nicknamed ‘Robocop’ for his tall yet muscular physique, Afolabi could bring a powerful and confident presence to the centre of the Nigerian defence after winning the league title in his first season with Austrian club Salzburg.
Strong in the air and versatile enough to play in several positions, Afolabi first came to the attention of supporters in 1999 when started turning in promising performances for the Nigerian U-20s in the run-up to the U-20 World Cup finals in their home country. In fact, he captained the side that ended up disappointed to go out at the quarter-final stage, but he impressed enough to earn his first full international appearance in qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. He was even called up to the finals in Korea Republic and Japan at the age of 22 with just a handful of caps to his name. He did not appear in the event, and he has been an irregular contributor to the Super Eagles ever since. He featured very briefly at the 2008 CAF Africa Cup of Nations when Berti Vogts led the team, and that was his last significant appearance before Lagerback took over. He had a triumphant previous spell in Austrian club football with Austria Wien, winning the league twice before four solid years with Sochaux in France. He came to European club football in 1997 with Standard Liege and spent six successful years with the Belgian club.