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How Far Could the ‘New Nigerian Golden Generation’ Go in the 2018 World Cup?

When the referee blew for full-time at the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in Cameroon, it was the visitors who were far happier. Nigeria knew that their place at the 2018 World Cup in Russia was all-but assured, the next chapter in an exciting project. Nigeria have one of the best young teams to come out of Africa in some time with players playing regular football for some of the biggest clubs on the planet. No African side has got past the quarter-finals of a FIFA World Cup but could the likes of Iwobi, Iheanacho and Musa fire Nigeria further than they’ve ever been before?

Mikel celebrates goal against Cameroon in Uyo. Nigeria 4-0 Cameroon.
Mikel celebrates goal against Cameroon in Uyo
Nigeria are almost there. They sit top of Group B in the CAF Qualification division on 10 points with Zambia their only challengers on 7. The two sides face off in the city of Uyo in October with Nigeria knowing that a win on home soil will get them to Russia next year. Superior goal difference means that a draw will probably do it too but for this group of young players, they’ll want to make sure of qualifying for a third successive World Cup, something which just four other African nations have accomplished.

To put this squad of players into context, you have to go back to the original Nigerian Golden Generation of the mid-1990s. Nwankwo Kanu and Jay-Jay Okocha were the two big stars of a country which won the 1993 FIFA Under-17 World Championships, the 1994 African Cup of Nations and then beat a Brazil side which featured Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo to win gold at the 1996 Olympics.

This new generation has achieved similar levels of success. Nigeria have won both of the last two FIFA Under-17 Championships, beating the likes of Brazil, Argentina and Mexico along the way. They even won the 2013 African Cup of Nations and there are personal ties too. Okocha’s nephew is none other than Alex Iwobi who broke through to the national team in 2015.

So who is a part of this New Golden Generation? The talent is a little top-heavy with Leicester’s Ahmed Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho up front. Moses Simon, Isaac Success and Alex Iwobi are also options up top with the likes of Wilfred Ndidi and Peter Etebo in midfield. These youngsters are helped along by Chelsea stars Victor Moses and Jon Obi Mikel, the latter of which had this to say.

"We have a very good team here, a very, very young team. I think this is the youngest team we've had since I've been here," Mikel told ESPN.

"We know how to play. We want to play football and if we manage to get there, we will play the same way and hopefully we can have a better World Cup."

Mikel claimed that this team “owes” the country of Nigeria a good World Cup. But what would constitute a good World Cup for the Super Eagles? They’re hardly the favourites to win it. As of 8 September, Betway has them at 150/1 to triumph in Russia next year alongside the likes of Sweden and Denmark. The odds may seem harsh but no African side has got past the quarters of a World Cup.

The first Nigerian Golden Generation certainly did not. For all the success Nigeria had in the mid-1990s, one thing which was missing was a World Cup run which the nation could really get behind. That was perhaps the biggest regret of that wonderful side and now it’s it on this new generation to change that.

Their attack is exciting and dynamic with goals coming from any angle. Senior coach Gernot Rohr has a great deal of experience managing in European football and has an excellent group of players to work with. They seem to have good chemistry too. Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi in particular seem to be good friends and this helps to overcome one of the biggest problems in international football: team cohesion.

This young group of Nigerian players is the most exciting it has had in two decades. The likes of Okocha and Kanu have been replaced by Iwobi and Iheanacho but their quality isn’t in doubt. Their attack is exciting and much of the team has proven itself in competition football with victory at youth level. Of course they have to get there first, but a good draw in the group stages could see Nigeria surprise a few countries next year. Don’t be too shocked to see the Super Eagles in the quarter-finals next year.

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