Coaching change makes life hard for Nigeria

ABUJA (Reuters) - With arguably the best draw of the six African nations at the World Cup, Nigeria should have high hopes of progressing into the second round.

A change of coach only months before the finals in South Africa, however, disrupted preparations for the Super Eagles and the incoming Lars Lagerback had little time to get to know his squad.

Lagerback, who took his native Sweden to the last two World Cups, has been charged with giving Nigeria back a winning edge, something that was missing at their last tournament, the African Nations Cup finals in January in Angola.

There they limped along, devoid of confidence and disjointed in their approach. It took several turns of good fortune for them to reach the semi-finals but they never looked potential winners.

When they went home with bronze medals, coach Shaibu Amodu was fired.

Nigeria have advanced past the opening group stage twice in their three previous World Cup finals appearances, evidence of the potential of Africa's most populous nation.

This time they are drawn in Group B, where Argentina are the favorites but both Greece and South Korea are seen as beatable.

Nigeria demolished the Greeks in the United States in 1994 when both countries were making their maiden World Cup finals appearance.

Nigeria have been unable to find anyone to successfully fill the midfield playmaking role previously occupied by Jay-Jay Okocha and Sunday Oliseh.

The current squad have an excess of defensively-minded, ball-winning, holding midfielders but none who have the ability to dictate the pace of the game from behind the forward line, spray incisive passes and set up clever opportunities.

This leaves the formidable strike pairing of Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Obafemi Martins without the service to match their ability. Nigeria does have strong attacking players on the flanks to unlock defenses and a tough defensive unit, albeit prone to the occasional extravagant gaffe.

Fullback Taye Taiwo, who lost his place during the Nations Cup but is still expected to be a starter for Nigeria's opener against Argentina on June 12, has a formidable shot that is most effective at free kicks.

(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Johannesburg; Editing by Clare Fallon)