The most consistently dangerous Nigeria striker when fit, Obafemi Martins could be the wildcard that Nigeria coach Lars Lagerback needs to escape a tricky Group B at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ this summer. Explosive and deceptively powerful, the forward can stretch a defence and put away goals at a healthy clip. In fact, the Super Eagles can thank the heroics of Martins for even reaching Africa’s first finals, an ironic twist for a star who has been in and out of favour with Nigeria over the years.
On the final day of qualifying in Africa, the Super Eagles needed to win their match in Kenya and have Tunisia drop points in Mozambique to avoid an inevitable public eruption upon missing out on another FIFA World Cup. With the score 1-0 to the hosts at half-time, then-coach Shaibu Amodu brought on Martins despite the fact that he’d only appeared in two previous preliminary matches. But the nimble Lagos native with a flair for the dramatic proved that he was still a vital part of the team when he went on to score the equaliser and eventually a top-drawer winner in the 81st minute. A simultaneous Tunisia defeat, and all of Nigeria celebrated the return of Obafemi.
But the up-and-down nature of the still-just 25-year-old’s time with the Nigerian national team was on display just a few months later at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year. Martins starred as a 21-year-old at the 2006 Cup of Nations, playing every minute of the six matches for the eventual third-place finishers. But his 2008 tournament was shortened by injury, and he also played a small role in Nigeria’s third-place finish at Angola 2010. Due to injury and a court date in England, he did not come on the pitch until the 67th minute of their third match against Mozambique, but he did score in the dying minutes of that 3-0 win. He again entered as a substitute in the next contest, and then started against Ghana in the semi-final. But he was out of sorts in the last-four crunch match, missing a handful of clear opportunities to change the 1-0 scoreline to the Black Stars.
Martins made his international debut in 2004 against the Republic of Ireland, scoring his first international goal that day as well. He was a regular in qualifying for Germany 2006, tallying eight goals in the six matches he played in. A hat-trick against Algeria in Oran followed up by a brace against Zimbabwe in two consecutive matches at the end of 2005, which gave way to his breakthrough at the 2006 Cup of Nations, was his most prolific period with the Super Eagles. It was the summer of that year that Martins was sold by Inter Milan to Newcastle, where he “replaced” Alan Shearer. A successful three seasons in England - though somewhat hampered by injury - then gave way to a move to Wolfsburg, where he immediately settled in and started scoring goals this past season.