Star players:Vincent Enyeama (Maccabi Tel-Aviv); Efe Ambrose (Celtic); Jon Obi Mikel (Chelsea)
Recent form:D, D, W
The Super Eagles of Nigeria are much changed from the fallen giants of Africa that stumbled through the mid to late 2000s.
Coach Stephen Keshi bravely wielded the axe ahead of the last African Cup of Nations, purging his team of gilded stars he believed lacked the fight for international football.
The results were astounding, and Nigeria won the continental crown for the first time since 1994 in South Africa this year, and will represent Africa in Group B at the Confederations Cup.
Nigeria’s international pedigree marks them as worthy African representatives on the global stage. They have been ranked as high as number five in the world, have twice qualified for the last-16 of the World Cup, and won the Olympic gold in 1996.
Their current squad of Confed contenders is an interesting mix of established internationals and up-and-coming young stars.
But where the majority of Keshi’s victorious Afcon squad was locally based, his Confed soldiers play in leagues as diverse as Israel, Norway, Ukraine, Germany, Italy, Holland, Portugal and the English Premier League.
Acrobatic goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama is always fun to watch, and provides the Super Eagles with a solid backing.
Ahead of him, Glasgow Celtic wing-back, Efe Ambrose, was a star of his team’s good showing in this season’s Uefa Champions League, and was linked to top teams in Europe as a result.
Chelsea midfielder Jon Obi Mikel meanwhile, is a genuine champion. He has won the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup, Champions League and Europa League with the Blues, and has quietly become one of Africa’s most successful players on the highest stage.
His leadership and experience, not to mention his athleticism and increasingly intelligent football brain, will be key to Nigeria’s bid to eliminate one of the other Group B heavyweights, Uruguay or Spain, and qualify for the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup.
Unfortunately, Nigeria is a team prone to melodrama, and it seems nothing has changed despite their recent success.
Keshi has long complained that forces in Nigerian football would do anything in their power to destabilise him.
And Nigeria’s preparations for the Confed Cup have been derailed by a player strike over unpaid bonuses.
Africa’s most populous nation has all the potential to show the rest of the world what we as a continent are about, but it could be that they have once again shot themselves in the foot by squabbling on the eve of a high-profile assignment.