Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Meet the Team: Nigeria

Nickname: The Super Eagles typify the high flying (and oft swooping) Nigerian style. Capable of great things, capable of stupid things, otherwise utterly unpredictable.

Star: The midfield maestro of Nigeria's hopes and dreams is undoubtably John Obi Mikel. Genius play at the age of 20 made him a highly sought commodity at the top levels in England. His time at Chelsea has been quietly consistent, though never at the levels of staggering brilliance one might have anticipated, he's unquestionably a heart and soul player on a team that needs it.

Hip-Star: Mikel needs men to drive in the goals--and while most eyes up top will tend towards the prolific Emmanuel Emenike and Liverpool's up-and-comer Victor Moses, we think the "real" soccer fan will plump for Ahmed Musa whose under the radar work at CSKA Moscow has steeled him to work against the best in the world (Champions League), and in less than comfortable conditions (Russia). He may not start, he may not see much pitch, but focusing on his performance will be like focusing on the best cinematography in Nollywood movies.

X-Factor: Having landed a group that the other African nations would dearly love to have, the weight of expectations may land rather heavily on Nigeria. Though they seem to have the clearest path through the group stages, one might have said the same thing in 2010, but the Super Eagles got bupkus instead. Lower ambitions made for better results in 1994 and again at the Cup of Nations last February, how much we expect versus how much they can deliver is the biggest question ahead.
Keshi (R) back in the glory days)

Coach: Local boy Stephen Keshi makes for an interesting example. Unlike most other managers he has only ever held positions with national teams, never denigrating himself with a daily grind of League competition. He's had great success in qualification (having pushed Togo through in 2006), but on the big stage his work has yet to be seen.

History: One of the titans of African football, Nigeria's best years were in their back-to-back final sixteen finishes in 1994 and 1998. They even won their group both times, playing a sterling brand of football that's far less common among the green & white these days.

Food: Tempted as I am to try fried ground peanuts (Kuli-Kuli) I'll play it a little healthier with Egusi offers a hearty soup with a mix of beef, shrimp, pumpkin and spinach.

Goodluck getting rid of that smile
Fool: The only president whose name is an implicit offer of support Goodluck Jonathan makes the most of his name to feel well liked even when he's mucking it all up. This is the man who attempted to ban his own team from international competition (before FIFA attempted to do it themselves). And since then the hits have just kept coming: ignoring terrorist cells, sacking independently minded ministers, shrugging off pleas of greater representation from Northern constituents, and playing totally dumb about the abduction of 100 school girls by an aforementioned terror cell. At this point his hat's about the only good thing about him--and that owes more to Pharrell than to Goodluck.

Best Case: Keeper Vincent Enyema thinks they can/should make the semi-finals. Let's see how it happens: Topping Bosnia and Iran gives them second place and a shot at the overconfident French (winnable) and, let's guess, a worn down/overconfident Portugal. That would get them the semi's...but it owes more to the draw than their talent.

Worst Case: A poor showing against Iran incites muslims and enrages President Jonathan, leading to feuds at home. The team continues to fumble chances against Bosnia as the home front burns and a final drubbing 7-0 by Argentina leaves them in utter shambles in every sense of the word.

My prediction: Nigeria was my first favorite from Africa, and they certainly have resources to make themselves a constant threat both on the continent and worldwide. Unfortunately, while the officially biggest GDP on the continent gives them a wealth of resources, this will be the cup, with a poor performance in a manageable group, that sees their sun set, and a chaotic government send them into a tailspin thereafer. 4th Place--0 points

Added Bonus: On their names alone we have to like the stable of artists in the label Chocolate City's loopy crew (particularly Ice Prince, Jesse Jagz and our chosen artists Str8Buttah...). Bravo Chocolate City, keep this going.

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