Abuja – Despite a stuttering start in the qualifiers of next year's FIFA World Cup, Nigeria's Super Eagles remain odds-on favourites to secure qualification for the global football showcase.
The West Africans, perennial favourites since their debut in 1994 in the United States, top Group 5 ahead of vastly improving Malawi on goal difference.
They have been criticised for not dealing with the pressure on their shoulders sufficiently, but after triumphing at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, the new generation of players have surely disproved that notion and, save for the blip at home against Kenya, will be one of the favourites to progress.
Nigeria Football Association President, Aminu Maigari, is among those expressing confidence Nigeria will transform the Afcon form to the World Cup qualifiers and qualify for Brazil.
They resume the campaign against bottom-placed Kenya, who held them to a one-all draw in the reserve fixture.
"God’s willing, we will be in Brazil for the World Cup," an upbeat Maigari told media ahead of preparations for the crucial matches.
While he is not reading much into history, the Super eagles have previously won in the Kenyan capital.
Incidentally, Nigeria beat their counterparts 3-2 in Nairobi in November
2009 to qualify for the last world Cup in South Africa.
Nigeria have the pedigree in this tournament.
They impressed in their debut in 1994 when a fine generation of footballers including current coach Stephen Keshi and his assistant Daniel Amokachi, the late Rashidi Yekini and Austin Eguavoen, among others propelled them to the second round of the tournament.
The Class of 1998 emulated that feat, including a victory against current champions Spain only to fall short against Denmark at that stage of the competition.
Nonetheless, their fortunes have waned over the last few editions.
They bombed out at the first hurdle in Japan and Korea in 2002 and failed to qualify for the 2006 edition in Germany.
However, while they bounced back to qualify for the edition in South Africa, a squad low on morale under Lars Lagerback failed to progress to the second round.
Winning the Afcon title against earlier against all odds this year, as well as the management style of Keshi, has given the soccer-mad nation hope.
The former captain, who famously helped Togo qualify for their maiden World Cup appearance in 2006, has stamped his authority since taking over in 2011.
He has made his intentions known he would not tolerate divisive elements in his team. Among the players that he has shown the door are English Premiership stars, Osazie Odemwinjie and Taiye Taiwo, whose commitment to the team has been in question.
In came players committed to the green and white of the Super Eagles such as Chelsea star Victor Moses, who has made an immediate impact.
His teammate, John Obi Mikel, and right back Efe Ambrose, a league winner with Celtic are the cog of the side while, like old wine, Vincent Enyeama is maturing with age and has one of the safest pairs of gloves in the continent.
The FIFA Confederations Cup, which kicks off in Brazil three days after the 2014 qualifier against Namibia, will be a perfect gauge of the Super Eagles’ prospects of reviving their World Cup fortunes.
They are pooled alongside Spain, Tahiti and Uruguay in the Festival of Champions.
– CAJ News