In a world, where every four years, 32 nations gather to determine a champion, only one team can hoist the World Cup trophy. [Cue the massive explosions.]
With apologies to "Iron Man 2," "Twilight" and whatever other blockbusters are headed to theaters this summer, none of them can compare to the most dramatic event of 2010: The World Cup.
The World Cup, in addition to being the only truly world championship outside of the Olympic Games, is the only tournament capable of providing the full range of human emotion:Anger, awe, boredom, depression, disgust, embarrassment, euphoria, frustration, guilt, misery, pride, rage and surprise
. The best screenwriters couldn't script some of those things.
To get you ready for the drama that will start unfolding on June 11 in South Africa, The Star and The Full 90 will introduce you to the teams, the key performers, what to look for and what to expect in this year's Cup.
And now we turn to the likely group runner-up...
NigeriaGroup B THE BASICS
• Nickname: The Super Eagles
• Colors: Green and White
• FIFA Ranking: 20
• How They Got Here: Barely. Won African qualifying group by beating Kenya 3-2 on the last day of matches.
• World Cup Pedigree: 3 appearances ('94, '98, '02), advanced to the second round twice. THE PLOT
Can a late-arriving leader diffuse a combustible team before it implodes and sends the team home too early.THE DIRECTOR
The Swede took over for Nigerian Shaibu Amodu who was, to put it kindly, tactically overmatched. Lagerback, who most recently coached the Swedish national team, is known as a disciplinarian. His teams tend to perform well against superior opponents. He only took over the job recently and the biggest question is can he get the team organized and ready for South Africa in such a short amount of time?LEADING MAN
John Obi Mikel
(midfielder, Chelsea) is one of the most indispensable Chelsea midfielders and was the most highly sought-out young players in 2005. He's talented both with and without the ball, and is an excellent distributor. He'll be counted on to be the fulcrum for Nigeria's attack.SUPPORTING CAST
Obafemi Martins (forward, Wolfsburg) is speedy and deadly striker known for his trademark somersault goal celebration, but has a tendency to drift out of games; Nwankwo Kanu (forward/midfielder, Portsmouth) is the Nigerian captain (and oldest player at 37) and will most likely drop back to the midfield alongside Mikel; Taye Taiwo (left back, Marseille) is capable of producing blistering shots on goal, despite his position; Danny Shittu
(defender, Bolton) is on this list for obvious and ignominious reasons.LIKELY BREAKOUT STAR
(midfielder, on loan to Malaga) fell out of favor with Inter Milan, but found his legs in Spain. A good performance at this year's Cup might land the 25-year-old a transfer to another European power.THE LIKELY VILLAIN
He's a naturally aggressive player, which works to his advantage when things are going well. When things go downhill, his aggression turns to petulance. Anyone who remembers the role he played in the ugly 2007 League Cup Final against Arsenal can attest to that.PRODUCTION NOTES
The team is set up to play a 4-3-3, with speedy forwards like Martins and Obinna. But who knows what Lagerback will institute with this team, with their strength being physical play in the midfield.WHAT THEY'LL WEAR
IT'S SORTA LIKE...
"The Hurt Locker"
It takes a really, really special breed of cat to try and run a national team like Nigeria's. The expectations are immense (the government wants a semi-final run at least) and the parts are so combustible (the 2002 squad squabbled over compensation and were run out in the first round). Lagerback has the experience and the expertise... but sometimes the bombs go off anyway.TRAILER
Nigeria's thrilling 3-2 final qualifying victory over Kenya.DO WHAT YOU WILL WITH THIS...
In 2008, after a poor showing in African Nations Cup, the national senate in Nigeria called for an investigation to figure out what went wrong.CRITICAL BLURBS
As already noted, the biggest obstacle to leaping into the knockout round will be the Nigerians themselves. ... They are too physical for South Korea, too fast for Greece and could give Argentina's wobbly defense nightmares. ... Are as talented (and perhaps more so) than either second-round opponent, Mexico and France. ... Will hope they get a continental boost with the Cup on African soil. ... Best-case scenario? Reaching the semi-finals. ... Realistic prediction?
Battling Mexico to a virtual standstill in the second round before losing on penalty kicks.POSSIBLE HOLLYWOOD MOMENT
Riding on the backs of their obvious physical advantages against their knock-out round opponents (likely Mexico and then England), Nigeria's duo of Martins and Kanu stand over the ball before the referee blows the whistle on July 6th in Cape Town. They've made it to the semi-finals, lined up against Brazil.
Group A: South Africa, Uruguay, Mexico, France
Group B: South Korea, Greece, Nigeria, Argentina
Group C: Algeria, Slovenia, USA, England
Group D: Serbia, Australia, Ghana, Germany
Group E: Japan, Cameroon, Denmark, Netherlands
Group F: New Zealand, Slovakia, Paraguay, Italy
Group G: North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal, Brazil
Honduras, Chile, Switzerland, Spain
Sources: World Cup 2010 (by Steven D. Stark and Harrison Stark); ESPN and Soccernet.com; FIFA; CIA Factbook