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World Cup 2018 team preview: Nigeria's young stars get first chance to shine

Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ team-by-team 2018 World Cup previews. With less than a month to go until this summer’s tournament, it’s time to get familiar with each of the 32 teams participating in Russia. Next up in Group D is Nigeria.

For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and dig in to all 32 team previews, eight group previews, power rankings, features and so much more.

Outlook

Odds to win Group D: 11.8%
Odds to advance: 29.4%
Odds to win World Cup: 0.7%
Elo rank: 43
Yahoo Sports power rank: 21

Our writers say: The Super Eagles reached a fifth World Cup in six editions by strolling through qualifying. They’ve yet to make it past the Round of 16, and this probably won’t be the team to do it either. There is some promising young talent, but the rest of the squad is mediocre, as are Nigeria’s chances. Leander Schaerlaeckens

(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exagerrated)

Nigeria will have a bevy of young talent at the 2018 World Cup, but John Obi Mikel is still a fixture. (Getty)

Basics

World Cup appearance: 6th
Best World Cup finish: Round of 16 (1994, 1998, 2014)
2014 finish: Lost to France in the round of 16
Qualifying: Topped Africa’s Group B ahead of Zambia, Cameroon and Algeria
Schedule: Croatia (Saturday, June 16, 3 p.m., FS1), Iceland (Friday, June 22, 11 a.m., Fox), Argentina (Tuesday, June 26, 2 p.m., Fox/FS1)

[Group D preview]

Squad

Manager: Gernot Rohr
Captain: John Obi Mikel (M)
Top players: Alex Iwobi (F), Victor Moses (M), Wilfred Ndidi (M)
Full 23-man squad

Breakdown

Why they’ll win games: The attack, no matter who starts or what form it takes, will be potent. There is pace throughout it. Moses offers the drive. Iwobi offers the quality. And Mikel, though on the downswing of his career, is still strong in a playmaking role for Nigeria.

Why they’ll lose games: The team gets progressively weaker as you go front to back. The midfield gets stretched far too easily, and though it is still a strength, Ndidi’s recent hamstring injury is a major worry. Without him, protection for the back four might be insufficient. 

How they’ll play: Mikel plays in front of two ball-winners – Ndidi and likely Ogenyi Onazi – in midfield, and conducts the attack. But the Super Eagles are, by far, most dangerous on the counter. They’ll open up and hurl numbers forward when opportunity arises.

Projected lineup (4-3-3): Ikechukwu Ezenwa; Shehu Abdullahi, William Troost-Ekong, Leon Balogun, Bryan Idowu; Wilfred Ndidi, Ogenyi Onazi, John Obi Mikel; Victor Moses, Odion Ighalo, Alex Iwobi.

John Ogu and Joel Obi are also options in midfield. The former started the final warmup friendly ahead of Onazi amid media reports of a rift between Onazi and Mikel. But Onazi should still start.

Rooting Guide

What makes them unique: The Nigerian federation has had several squabbles with its players over World Cup bonus payments in the past. There’ll be no repeat of the chaos in 2018, though. The NFF has reportedly compensated both players and coaches months before the tournament this time around.

Why to root for them: My goodness, they are fun. So much fun. There’s flair and speed and players who simply enjoy playing attacking soccer.

Why to root against them: There’s very high disappointment potential. And that joy sometimes doesn’t bubble to the surface. The high-ceiling, low-floor designation means there’s a decent chance they get your hopes up, then lay an egg in the final group game or the Round of 16.

If you’re going to watch one game … Nigeria beat Argentina 4-2 in a November friendly, so that last group game seems like a good bet, as long as it’s not a so-called dead rubber – a meaningless game, with the fates of both teams already decided.

More Yahoo Sports World Cup team previews