2014 World Cup team preview: Nigeria

1 Comment

Getting to know…Nigeria: Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups and have twice qualified for the Round of 16 (1994 and 1998). The Super Eagles have also enjoyed success in the African Cup of Nations, winning the tournament three times, most recently this past winter. Coached by Stephen Keshi, Nigeria utilize a defensive style that looks to over-power teams on the counter-attack. All things flow through John Obi Mikel, who plays in a more advanced role for his country and playmakes for wingers Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa, as well as the highly-rated Emmanuel Emenike.

Record in qualifying: Nigeria went undefeated in qualifying out of Group F, taking 12 points in six matches off of Malawi, Kenya and Namibia before defeating Ethiopia in both matches of the two-leg playoff.

What group are they in?: Group F with Argentina, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Iran

Game schedule:

16 June, 16:00, Curitiba – Iran vs. Nigeria
21 June, 18:00, Belo Horizonte – Nigeria vs. Argentina
25 June, 13:00, Salvador – Nigeria vs. Bosnia & Herzegovina

Star player: John Obi Mikel

At times maligned at Chelsea, Obi Mikel is hailed in Nigeria. A massive presence, Obi Mikel is strong in the tackle but enjoys the balance of having smooth technique. For Nigeria, Obi Mikel is the playmaker who can provide pinpoint passes to release the weapons around him. Look for him to play higher up the pitch for his country, where he won’t think twice about shooting from distance. When Obi Mikel plays well, Nigeria plays well.

source: Getty ImagesManager: Stephen Keshi

Named African Coach of the Year in 2013 after willing his team to victory in the African Cup of Nations. A defensive tactician who sets up his sides to explode on the counter, Keshi gets the most out of his side’s youth, pace and hunger. Despite his success, Keshi’s experience with the national team has undergone a number of issues in the past including player disputes and claims of unpaid wages. If Nigeria are to succeed this summer, Keshi must ensure any such issues are buried before getting on the plane to Brazil.

Secret weapon: Emmanuel Emenike

The 27-year-old Emenike is a bit of a late bloomer, having earned his initial call-up to the national team just three years ago while playing with Spartak Moscow. Since then his career has flourished as Emenike scored four goals during the 2013 African Cup of Nations to help the Super Eagles hoist the title. Now at Fenerbahce, Emenike is coming off a strong season having scored 12 goals in 28 appearances. Look for Emenike’s blazing speed and direct style of play to serve as target man for Nigeria’s high-paced counter-attacks. Built like a bull, he loves to tangle with opposing defenders, rarely loses battles, and has a blistering shot.

Prediction: Nigeria faces stiff competition from Bosnia & Herzegovina as to who will finish second in the group behind Argentina, setting up what should be an epic final match day in Group F. Look for Nigeria’s youth and athleticism to give them the edge over B&H but advancing beyond the Round of 16 feels unlikely for the Super Eagles.

Klopp hails players in blowout, downplays squad rotation

Leave a comment

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain isn’t bothered by Jurgen Klopp‘s squad rotation at Liverpool.

“The front four have been on fire, they are not bad,” he said after the Reds battered Bournemouth 4-0 on Sunday.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

“Everyone’s a quality player and the rest of us have to sneak our noses in there. Squad rotation is important, keeps us fresh.”

Klopp was a little more critical of his squad, saying the changes had more to do with how the Reds performed against West Brom than a need to keep players fresh.

“I like them but against West Brom they didn’t hit the target. I don’t change my mind in three minutes, but we have to be consistently good because we are Liverpool.”

The manager especially loved how well Liverpool started, as Bournemouth didn’t have a chance to get moving. Klopp gets plenty of criticism, but he almost always has his finger on the pulse of his club. Sunday was a big win for the manager and his club, even if it was somewhat expected.

Making sense of the table in a Man City world

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
2 Comments

There are natural advantages to being atop the table deep into a Premier League season, the most evident being the ability to enter into any match against a challenger knowing a draw will likely be fine.

But what about being ahead of the field by double digits?

Perspective is a major challenge when a team is as doing as well as Manchester City. Pep Guardiola‘s men have drawn just once in 18 matches, and hold a 11-point lead on Manchester United, 14 points better than third place Chelsea.

Speaking of the Blues, manager Antonio Conte raised an interesting point after Chelsea beat Southampton on Saturday. Conte says City’s crazy run has colored over his team’s fine results, as last season’s champions are 8-1-1 since losing two-straight in October.

[ MORE: WBA 1-2 Man Utd | Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

Four losses is four losses — United has three — but it’s an interesting notion. Both sides have lost to City at home, but otherwise will finish the weekend boasting multiple match leads on the field when it comes to second- and third-place.

Is this much different from recent years? Consider the following seasons after 18 weeks.

Remember: Manchester United has 41 points, and Chelsea 38 (And United has been missing its World XI class player for all but eight games. Some of his doing, some not).

2016-17

Chelsea led the table with 46 points, six better than Liverpool and seven ahead of Man City. Spurs, who would finish second, had 33 points with a match-in-hand. That 13-point gap closed to seven.

2015-16

Leicester was atop the table with 38 points, just two better than Arsenal and three ahead of Man City. They’d finish 10 points better than Arsenal’s 71.

2014-15

Chelsea (45 points) held a three-point advantage on Man City and 10 on third place Manchester United. The Blues would finish eight points ahead of City.

2013-14

Liverpool and Arsenal were dead even with 36 points, one better than eventual champions Man City. The title winners finished two ahead of Liverpool, four free of Chelsea, and six past Arsenal.

So… both United and Chelsea would be leading the Premier League in two of the past four seasons, which is certainly notable.

I don’t want to belabor the Pogba point too much, especially since the most recent absence comes from a red card suspension, but what if United had him for all those matches? Do they find a goal in the 0-0 at Liverpool? Get a point from the 1-0 loss at Chelsea? Flip the script on the 2-1 loss at Huddersfield Town?

Let alone the City loss.

But again, seasons like this one from City remind us of the challenges of framing seasons when one campaign is oh-so-dominant.

Liverpool mashes Cherries

Leave a comment
  • Coutinho, Salah score beauties (video)
  • Cherries winless in six
  • Reds unbeaten in nine
  • Robertson key on left side

Liverpool ran a red-hot first half to an easy 4-0 win over Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday.

Mohamed Salah and Philippe Coutinho scored highlight reel goals, with Dejan Lovren and Roberto Firmino pitching in flying headers, as the Reds moved into the Top Four with 34 points.

Bournemouth sits 16th, a point ahead of the relegation zone, and witnessed a match much different than last season’s 4-3 win over Liverpool at the same venue.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Joe Gomez curled a shot wide of the goal in the fourth minute. A Nathan Ake foul six minutes later gave Liverpool a free kick just outside the 18, and Philippe Coutinho struck a sweet effort off the inside of the post… and out.

Coutinho nearly put a chance home moments later, so it was not surprise when he scored the match’s first goal. A mazy dribbled past two Cherries ended with a shot across his body and inside the near post. Wonderful stuff. 1-0.

Lovren had 2-0 within six minutes, hitting the deck with a diving header goal after Roberto Firmino saved a corner kick on the line at the back post.

Jermain Defoe timed his run well for a 1v1 with Simon Mignolet, but his shot caromed off the far post.

It would’ve been 3-0 were it not for an outstanding reaction save from Asmir Begovic as Mohamed Salah attempted to cap off a terrific team play in the 43rd minute.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Salah got his goal in stunning fashion, bodying off a defender before dribbling past two more to finish with an off-balance belt past Begovic.

Substitute Ryan Fraser had a chance to pull one back in the 56th minute, but rang it wide of the near post.

The Reds raised their advantage to four on another Robertson started move, with Firmino heading a Coutinho cross beyond Begovic.

Mourinho on muted celebrations from Lukaku, himself

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

There’s a lot of buzz about celebrating, and not celebrating, when it comes to Manchester United.

Star striker Romelu Lukaku‘s post-goal actions were muted for a second-straight week, and manager Jose Mourinho appeared nonchalant on the bench.

[ RECAP: WBA 1-2 Man Utd ]

For Lukaku, that could be down to his status as a former West Brom player (and to be sure he was quite energetic in support of Jesse Lingard‘s insurance goal).

As for Mourinho, this is a man who was quite critical of Man City’s celebrations after winning a derby at Old Trafford. And Jose isn’t one to let a story line die unnecessarily.

Here’s Mourinho when asked about Lukaku’s non-celebration, from the BBC:

“Maybe he looks to the bench and sees his manager doesn’t celebrate. Maybe he loves West Brom. Maybe he remembers the team that helped him early in his career.

“I will celebrate if my team scores a winning goal in the last minute. But you have to have more maturity and keep your feet on the ground. If some guys want to be kids until the last day of their careers or if they want to act to the cameras then they can. But if we score an important goal then I can do anything.”

On one hand, I get it. On the other hand (and a third if I can find one), be okay with having a bit of fun, Jose.

United is back to within 11 points of leaders Man City, and it’s a massive mountain to climb for the Red Devils. Yet Ander Herrera, who was terrific again on Sunday, said the directive is simple: control what you can.

“We won three titles last season, which was very good. It is true that the top of the table is difficult to reach right now but this is Premier League, you never know. Our aim is just to keep winning games.”

The side’s 41 points through 18 matches would’ve been enough to lead the Premier League in two of the previous four seasons. No one’s going to tell United to be content with where they stand, but it’s been a fine season for Mourinho’s men so far.