A journeyman forward, John Utaka should bring pace and guile to the Super Eagles frontline at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Since leaving the Nigerian domestic league for Egyptian club Arab Contractors in 1998 as a 16-year-old, Utaka has lined up for six clubs in four countries. His last port of call was an unhappy stint at relegated Portsmouth in England, so he will undoubtedly be looking for a new home. But his time at Pompey will also be remembered for winning the FA Cup in 2008, and he was the player that set up compatriot Nwankwo Kanu for the only goal in the 1-0 triumph over Cardiff.
A relative veteran at 28 years old, Utaka is also one of the few remaining Nigerians that also competed at their last FIFA World Cup finals - a group stage exit at 2002 Korea/Japan. He played in one match in that event - a 2-1 defeat to a Sweden team led by new Nigeria coach Lars Lagerback - and became a key figure for the national team after that, most notably at the 2004 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. After scoring the winner in the final group match against Benin that cemented his team’s place in the knockout rounds, he played hero again in the quarter-finals - claiming the decisive goal in a 2-1 victory over defending champions Cameroon. Utaka converted a penalty kick in the post-match shootout defeat to hosts and eventual champions Tunisia in the semi-final as Nigeria ended up finishing third. He featured but failed to make as much of an impact as Nigeria replicated their bronze in the 2006 edition of the continental showpiece. He was a regular in the unsuccessful campaign to qualify for Germany 2006 and played all four matches at Ghana 2008, where the Super Eagles went out in the second round to the hosts. A difficult time with injuries and his club career saw him make only four appearances during 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying.