Nigeria has a storied record at the World Cup, beginning in 1994 when the likes of Rashidi Yekini, Emmanuel Amenike, Peter Rufai, and Daniel Amokachi captured the imagination of the world en-route a round-of-16 elimination at the hands of Italy.
In that game, the West Africans had led for most of the match until a last-minute penalty eliminated them and since then, the Super Eagles have become regular feature at the Mundial, qualifying for five of the six editions and the colourful brigade of their supporters makes them one of the most loved teams for the neutrals.
To date, the country's best performance remains three second-round finishes, with qualification to the knockout rounds recorded in 1998 and 2014 in addition to their maiden appearance. The last edition of the World Cup ended in heartbreak for Nigeria, as a late goal from Marcos Rojo ended their aspirations in the group stage and ensured Argentina qualified in their stead.
However, there are plenty of reasons why Nigeria can look ahead to the 2022 World Cup with optimism and here, we shall be highlighting three reasons why Nigeria can do well at the World Cup in three years.
#3 The team has been on the ascendancy in recent years
Having failed to qualify for consecutive Nations Cups in 2015 and 2017, in addition to their 2012 absence, Nigeria sealed qualification to the 2019 edition in grand style, recovering from a 2-0 home reversal against South Africa to impressive top a group also containing Libya and Seychelles.
At the tournament proper, the Super Eagles exceeded expectations, finishing in third place after dispatching teams like defending champions Cameroon and South Africa on their way. Earlier, they had also topped the 'group of death' including Cameroon, Algeria, and Zambia to secure qualification to the World Cup in Russia, while they also gave a good account of themselves in the tournament.
Impressive results have been recorded over the last two years, including a 4-2 comeback friendly victory over Argentina, while they also beat Egypt and drew with Ukraine and Brazil. It cannot be argued that Nigerian football has been on an upward trajectory in recent years after an earlier lull and it is very likely that they could continue with their good run of form in Qatar.
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#2 The country has a lot of young players blossoming in mainstream Europe
Nigeria has always produced world-beaters from a young age and this is evident in the fact that the country is the record-winner of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. The craze for football in the country sees young boys playing football in the street and honing their talents from an early age and this translates onto the professional scene, with players from Nigeria able to hold their own anywhere in the world.
On the current stage, several young Nigerian players are lighting up Europe and the rest of the world with their displays. Victor Osimhen has blossomed into one of the hottest strikers in the world, with his displays for Lille leading to interest from top-tier clubs including Chelsea and Tottenham. Samuel Chukwueze has continued with his development at Villarreal and is one of the standout young players in the world, while Joe Aribo has been the driving force from midfield for Steven Gerrard's transformation at Rangers.
Other young Nigerian players like Alex Iwobi (Everton), Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City), Dennis Emmanuel (Club Brugge), Ovie Ejaria (Reading), Eberechi Eze (QPR) and Josh Maja (Bordeaux) among others are all lighting up Europe with their displays.
All the aforementioned footballers are just a handful of players under the age of 23 who are strutting their stuff and flying the Nigerian flag with pride. Most of them would have matured into better and more complete footballers by the time the 2022 World Cup comes around and they would play a key role in Nigeria doing well at the tournament.
#1 The Middle and Far East have always been favourable to Nigeria
A cursory glance at Nigerian football history would reveal one underlying fact: the nation has always found success in tournaments hosted in Asia. Four of the country's five triumphs at Under 17 level have come in Asian countries, with the very first edition in China won by Nigeria and further triumphs recorded in Japan (1993), South Korea (2007), and UAE (2013).
The only exception came when Kelechi Nwakali and Victor Osimhen successfully retained the trophy in Chile in 2015. The 2022 World Cup in Qatar would be unique in that it would be the first to be played in November to December, as against the more traditional period of June to July and the reason for this is not far-fetched, as the temperatures during those periods are extremely high bordering on unbearable for Europeans who are used to more temperate climates.
However, the temperatures in November to December are relatively cooler and while it would have significant consequences on club football, it was a concession that had to be made. The temperatures of 29.5° - 35.5°C which are recorded at the end of the year are manageable but still relatively high for the Europeans and this could play to the advantage of Nigeria and other African nations.
These temperature readings are not too far from what is recorded in Nigeria and while their European counterparts might find it difficult to adapt to the extreme heat in Qatar, the Super Eagles would feel right at 'home', which could have a positive impact on their performance.
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