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

For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and return as all 32 team previews and eight group previews roll in.

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)
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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)

Squad
Manager: Gernot Rohr
Captain: John Obi Mikel (M)
Top players: Alex Iwobi (F), Victor Moses (M), Kelechi Iheanacho (F), Wilfred Ndidi (M)
Full 23-man (or preliminary) 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. Iheanacho offers the quality. Iwobi offers both. 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 – Ogenyi Onazi and Ndidi, if fit – 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, Elderson Echiejile; Wilfred Ndidi, Ogenyi Onazi, John Obi Mikel; Victor Moses, Odion Ighalo, Alex Iwobi.

If Ndidi can’t go, Joel Obi would be the most likely replacement. Rohr has tried Iheanacho as a No. 10, but will likely either start the Leicester striker up top in place of Ighalo or bring him off the bench. Echiejile is one of three players seemingly in contention at left back.

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. 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.