The bitter disappointment of missing out on the 2006 FIFA World Cup ™ finals will serve as an added spur for Nigeria's Super Eagles when they begin their South Africa 2010 qualifying campaign.
Sharing the same group with Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone and South Africa, Nigeria will be fancied to progress to the second phase of the African qualifiers and will have their eyes on the grand prize of qualifying for 2010. Anything less will likely end the tenure of new coach Shaibu Amodu, who has recently taken over from the German Berti Vogts.
The appointment of Vogts, a FIFA World Cup winner with West Germany in 1974, was an indication of Nigeria's determination to reach South Africa 2010. But after a spluttering performance at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, the tough-tackling former full-back decided to stand down.
The Nigerians kicked off their Ghana 2008 bid with a 1-0 defeat to Côte d'Ivoire and only made it to the last eight after a 2-0 victory over Benin in their final group game. But after taking the lead in the west African derby clash with the tournament hosts, Vogts's side fell away to lose 2-1 and set the seal on an instantly forgettable campaign.
The Super Eagles have a mass of stars based at clubs throughout Europe, from Russia in the east to Spain in the west. Competition for places in the squad is stiff although Nigeria still have to find a successor to playmaker Augustine 'Jay-Jay' Okocha, who was the pivot around which the team operated in the past. Colleagues like Nwankwo Kanu and Joseph Yobo provide the experience in the side, but new faces like Laziale Stephen Makinwa, John Obi Mikel, Taye Taiwo, Obafemi Martins and former Stade Rennais man John Utaka (now with Portsmouth) will likely be key to Nigeria's hopes of qualifying for a fourth FIFA World Cup finals appearance in 2010.
Nigeria made their first appearance in the finals at USA 1994, where they made it past the first round at the first attempt, and they went on to play at the 1998 and 2002 tournaments. Surprisingly, though, they were pipped by Angola for a place at the most recent edition of the FIFA World Cup.
It has also now been 14 years since the country lifted a trophy - the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia in 1994 - which came 14 years after their first-ever continental triumph on home soil in 1980. But the big prize remains the FIFA World Cup and, as many pundits tip to produce Africa's first-ever world champions, they will be determined to make sure they give themselves the chance to realize this goal in South Africa.
Nigeria's conquest of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007 certainly boosted their confidence, and they will be hoping to parade some of these teenage talents to the world once again in 2010.