Players to watch
Ogenyi Onaze. The 21-year-old midfielder who plies his trade with Lazio in Italy’s Serie A just can’t stay out of the headlines. One minute he’s narrowly surviving a Boko Haram bombing in Jos; the next he finds himself used – unknowingly – by a Nigerian sports agent who was caught on videotape boasting that he could fix World Cup matches.
In between all of that, he’s a critical source of strength at the base of Nigeria’s midfield. While striker Emmanuel Emenike is on most pundits’ cards as the man most likely to provide the goals up front, keep an eye on Peter Osaze Odemwingie. The Tashkent-born son of a Nigerian father and Russian mother has been recalled after 18 months in the wilderness, and the Stoke striker remains a prolific scorer at the age of 32.
The Super Eagles marked their World Cup debut in 1994 with an emphatic 3-0 drubbing of Bulgaria, lost narrowly to Argentina and then beat Greece to make the round of 16 where they were agonizingly bested by Italy after extra time.
Beset by corruption and mismanagement, Nigerian football endured a long slump following its mid-’90s heyday – a slump that arguably continues even though the Super Eagles won last year’s African Cup of Nations. The squad heads to the World Cup with few standout players, and coach Stephen Keshi at odds with the Nigerian Football Association. Still, with Iran and Bosnia to beat for second place in Group F behind Argentina, they should make it at least as far as the Group of 16, but no further.
The squad have won the African Cup of Nations, and enjoy a measure of stability under coach Stephen Keshi, himself a player in 1994. Their round-of-16 opponent would likely be France, against whom they may get lucky. If so, though, they’re unlikely to get past Germany in the quarterfinal.
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Boko Haram, notorious kidnappers of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls and perpetrators of dozens of attacks on civilians, sees soccer as part of the Western influence they’re trying to violently eliminate. In recent weeks, they’ve killed dozens of Nigerians in attacks on crowds watching soccer games, and Nigerians gathering in public places to watch World Cup broadcasts in areas where the group is active do so under the shadow of Boko Haram’s violent objections.
World Cup 2014: Neville unhappy with calls to drop Rooney Calls for Wayne Rooney to be dropped by England at the World Cup have turned into a “witch-hunt”, according to his Manchester United coach Phil Neville. The 28-year-old striker’s place in Roy Hodgson’s side has been questioned ahead of Saturday’s game against Italy. Continue reading the main story “I’m certain he will want to deliver in this tournament like he did at Euro 2004” Phil Neville on Rooney But Neville told BBC Sport: “I just think it is a witch-hunt we don’t need. “Everything has been going so well with the team’s preparation that people are looking for a negative now. But there isn’t a negative with Wayne.” During England’s preparations for the World Cup, Rooney and Neville’s former United team-mate Paul Scholes suggested the forward may be past his peak. “There is a side of the English mentality to say ‘let’s look for a scapegoat and somebody to criticise’,” said Neville. “But Wayne is our best player and that’s a fact.” Rooney has not scored in eight World Cup appearances, but netted four times at the European Championship in 2004. “I’m certain he will want to deliver in this tournament like he did at Euro 2004,” said Neville. “He looks fit and lean and I do not understand why people want him out. “Hopefully this criticism will be Wayne’s motivation. I just get annoyed by it all and it sounds like Roy Hodgson is getting annoyed by it all too.” Hodgson said last week it was “a bit sad” that England is “so Wayne Rooney-obsessed”. Neville, who is part of the BBC punditry team in Brazil for the World Cup, feels Rooney is being targeted unfairly. “People question Wayne’s attitude as well as his fitness but I worked with him every day last season and can tell you he is totally driven to perform at this World Cup,” said Neville, whose brother Gary is part of the England coaching set-up. “Part of his ambitions now are to become the all-time leading goalscorer for England and Manchester United, and that is something that is driving him on. “I know that for a fact because that is one of the goals we, his coaches at United, set him.” Rooney, who scored 17 Premier League goals in 2013-14, is the third-highest scorer in United’s history with 216 goals in 442 games, 33 behind record holder Sir Bobby Charlton. Charlton also holds the record for England with 49 goals, with Rooney in fifth place on 38, including the seven goals that made him England’s top scorer in qualifying. Neville added: “Wayne’s record in qualifying was superb, he is held in high esteem throughout the world and is the player that, when his name is on the England teamsheet, the Italian defenders will be thinking ‘he is the one we have got to stop’. “Yet there is talk that we as a nation want to leave him out of our team. I cannot get my head round it. “There is no doubt in my mind that Wayne is the first name on the teamsheet. Let’s just hope that he delivers and these silly rumours and suggestions go away.” (BBC Sports)