Profiles - World Cup Teams - Nigeria
Nigeria We are going to enjoy Festus Onigbinde.

'I remember one thing I learned in primary school,' said Nigeria's avuncular new national football coach, smiling sunnily at his interrogators in the cramped Loftus Road press room. 'Good, better, best ... may I never rest ... until I do this better ... until my better is best.'

The QPR regulars there reckoned they'd never heard Ian Holloway come out with classroom pearls like that but then they also conceded that the old ground had probably never witnessed anything quite as exotically different as the night when Nigeria came down South Africa Road to meet Paraguay and a small corner of England seemed to be transformed into little Lagos.

Great fun it was too, almost as if the World Cup had been brought forward a couple of months and found itself lost somewhere in deepest Shepherd's Bush.

Six thousand fans in Super Eagle green engulfing about a dozen in Paraguayan red and all making enough racket to persuade you they were 20,000-strong. A surprisingly lively encounter too.

We had media folk from the Buenos Aires Herald to the Voice of America all searching for World Cup form guides and Ted Buxton there meticulously doing his scouting homework for Uncle Sven on England's Group of Death opponents.

What could he have learned about Nigeria? Probably sweet FA since the vast majority of last night's Eagles won't fly anywhere near a World Cup finals outing.

Instead, for Onigbinde, the Nigerian FA technical director now charged with clearing up another fine mess they'd gotten themselves into at the African Nations Cup, the occasion was everything.

His experimental team, top heavy with untried home-based players, looked fragmented and disorganised but what he really wanted to see for his first match at the helm were signs of a rebuilding of spirit and commitment which might yet upset the odds in Japan.

If nothing else, he got that. There were players out there, like goalkeeper Austin Ejids, who flapped hopelessly at the corner which Carlos Gamarra headed home after 20 minutes, and hapless full-back Friday Onyeukwu, who you felt like watching with eyes peeping through your fingers, that could have lulled any England scout into feeling pretty smug.

Yet, there was also plenty of fire and the odd gem to be found amid the general poverty which reminded you why we can never take too much for granted against such mercurial talent.

Like a 17-year-old kid, Bartholomew Ogbeche, from Paris St Germain, up front who would look out of his depth one minute and a potential world-beater the next. His volley from a Jay-Jay Okocha cross, executed in mid-air and struck with blistering ferocity, could have won the match for the Nigerians in the dying minutes if not for an equally marvellous save from Ricardo Tavarelli.

It was about as fine a piece of skill and athleticism as you could wish to see on a football field. Yet you suspect the real boon for coach Onigbinde were the performances of his three key men, Nwankwo Kanu, Celestine Babayaro and Paris St Germain's Okocha.

Amid such hectic club schedules, you wouldn't have bet a bean on the trio doing much more than going through the motions before trotting off for an early bath. All three, though, not only lasted the course but, clearly energised to answer the Nigerian fans' growing desperation, increasingly stamped their authority.

Indeed, after looking in disarray and being outclassed by the neat, streetwise Paraguayans for much of the first half, they actually had them clinging on for a draw by the finish.

Kanu gradually upped his game, putting himself about rather more busily than he had for Arsenal in Turin the previous week, and by the 84th minute was still going so strong that he eventually tormented the Paraguayan defence into giving away the penalty which Okocha converted for the equaliser amid general delirium.

Onigbinde's task doesn't look enviable. Nigeria's dismal semi-final exit in the African Nations in Mali came amid mutterings of player rebellion, while senior squad members have talked about the worst-ever preparations they can recall.

Sunday Oliseh and Finidi George, two key old stagers they can hardly afford to be without this summer, have been ditched after a row involving sports ministry officials.

Yet Onigbinde, who's not shy in reminding people how he laid the foundations for success during his last spell in charge, has an air of calm confidence about his restructuring plan. An experiment but 'a very good beginning,' he called this, before offering his old schoolboy mantra.

And should the Super Eagles really go from good to better to best, soaring to the heights they're capable of in Japan, will a nation remember the spark as having been this one splendidly improbable night in west London? homepage