On a Nigeria team likely to struggle with creativity in midfield, Peter Odemwingie’s direct running and incisive dribbling could be the thrust that the Super Eagles need to make their mark at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. His pace can menace defences from both the wings or up top, and his talent and commitment to the cause have been such that he’s been as close as Nigeria has had to an omnipresent player since the mid-2000s. And luckily for Nigeria, his form with the national team may have hit a peak earlier this year at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, where he was perhaps the most influential player in the tournament’s group stage, claiming a double against Mozambique and tormenting more than a few defenders only for Nigerian finishing to come up lacking. He also seemed to accept more of a leadership role in the team and was eventually named to the Best XI of the tournament by CAF as the Super Eagles finished third in the event.
Odemwingie came to the attention of most Nigerians at a different Cup of Nations: the 2004 edition in Tunisia. It was in those continental finals that he scored two goals in the vital 4-0 win over South Africa that ultimately allowed Nigeria to qualify for the knockout rounds. However, his otherwise positive tournament is also associated with his decisive miss in the penalty shootout against eventual-champions Tunisia in the semi-finals. He did manage to redeem himself in the third-place match with a goal in a 2-1 victory over Mali.
The player, who will turn 29 just after the finals in South Africa, was born in Uzbekistan but moved to Nigeria when he was an infant. His upbringing and footballing experience were split between the west African country, which was the birthplace of his father, and the former Soviet Union, and he still maintains dual citizenship. Around the time of his national team debut, he landed in Europe with La Louviere in Belgium in 2002. A few positively-regarded seasons later, he moved to Lille for some of their glory days in the French Ligue 1 as well as some UEFA Champions League experience before joining Lokomotiv Moscow in the summer of 2007.
He was a solid squad player at both the 2006 and 2008 Cup of Nations and a vital over-age member of the team that won the silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Football Tournament. He played in all six matches in Beijing as the Nigerians lost only to Lionel Messi and Argentina in the final. He was also a regular member of the team that qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals, appearing 10 times and scoring two goals. Despite a reputation for inconsistent performances, Odemwingie’s overall record in FIFA World Cup preliminary matches is excellent, winning 10 of 15 contests overall and not losing a single match.