Sunday, April 20, 2014

Nigeria and World Cup Opponents…..

In a World Cup year, there is always an urge to size up your team against other teams that are also going to be at the World Cup. Thus, fans watch international friendlies with interest in order to imagine their team's World Cup performance. Already, Nigeria has begun its preparatory games for the World Cup and the opening game was early in March against Mexico which ended 0-0. Mexico, is a World Cup team, and, thus, the result goes a long way in measuring Nigeria's potential at the World Cup, at least in our collective imagination. Below we take a look back at Nigeria's historic performances against World Cup teams.

Keshi's Era: Nigeria's Record v The Rest

Under Manager Stephen "Big Boss" Keshi, Nigeria has played very few games against the teams that will be at the World Cup. The data below shows the outcomes in those games and Nigeria's efficiency score (i.e. Maximum possible points divided by actual points/This assumes, though unrealistically, that a win in a friendly game is a value of three points). Because the games have been few, it is difficult to project from those results to the team's performance at the World Cup. However, they give us a clue, an insight, and perhaps some talking points as the World Cup approaches.

Played   Won   Drew  Lost   Scored Conceded  Efficiency
6----------1--------3--------2-------7---------10-------- .33------

Though Nigeria has only won one game against teams that will be at the World Cup, it does not necessarily mean that Nigeria was completely outplayed. As the record shows, Nigeria has lost just two of those six games. Unfortunately, this leads to just 0.33 efficiency score from games against World Cup teams. They will add two of such games -- against Greece and the USA -- before the World Cup begins. One important note is that all the games have been played in neutral venues. Importantly, while we have used points to calculate efficiencies in international friendlies, it is arguable that the goal of friendlies are focused on winning them.

Compared to Previous World Cups

We also decided to compare the current games v World Cup teams under Keshi to those under previous Nigerian World Cup managers. However, we excluded both Onigbinde's 2002 and Lagerback's 2010 World Cup teams because they played fewer than four games against World Cup-bound teams. Here is how they compare:

Played   Won   Drew  Lost   Scored Conceded  Efficiency
6----------1--------3--------2-------7---------10-------- .33------(Keshi/2014)
(Mexico x 2, Italy, Ivory Coast, Uruguay, and Spain)

5----------1--------0--------4-------3---------8---------- .20-----(Westerhoff/1994)
(Cameroon x 2, Colombia, Sweden, and Romania)

4---------0--------1---------3------3---------11--------- .08-----(Bora/1998)
(Jamaica, Germany, Yugoslavia, and Netherlands)

The efficiency score of 0.33 for the current team is actually high for a Nigerian team against World Cup bound opponents. Surprised? The solace, however, is that these preparatory games often do not denote how the team would play at the World Cup. For instance, while both the 1994 and 1998 teams had lower efficiency scores, they went on to top their World Cup groups! While, we did not include data for the 2002 and 2010 teams because they both played fewer than four preparatory games against World Cup bound teams, the 2002 and 2010 teams could not get out of the World Cup group stage. What was their efficiency scores in preparatory games? Though we did not post them for reasons given above,  the 2010 team under Lagerback won its only game against a World Cup bound team -- 3-1 v North Korea (Efficiency of 1.00, a perfect score!). The Onigbinde 2002 team played just two games against World Cup bound teams and was unbeaten (Rep. of Ireland and Paraguay)!

Though the data do not show that the current team's performance is comparatively poor, the fact remains that the efficiency score is relatively poor against the best teams in the World. Perhaps, it is a wake up bell denoting the fact that Nigeria is clearly not among the best footballing nations in the world. Nigeria still has a bit to go before it is considered a strong footballing nation at football's pinnacle.

**To learn more about Nigerian soccer statistics checkout CHUKASTATS at books.