PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) — After a dismal opening draw against Iran, veteran midfielder Joseph Yobo was concerned about Nigeria's World Cup prospects being written off.
A hard-fought victory against Bosnia-Herzegovina and a strong showing in a 3-2 loss to Argentina have certainly changed that.
Now safely into the knockout stages for the first time 1998, he's confident of going further.
"This is a young team that keeps growing, and keeps getting better. We started the first game and people wrote us off," Yobo said. "We are still pushing as a team to see how far we can go in this tournament. I see this team going places."
The first test of that will be Monday when it plays France in the Round of 16.
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi says the French are "beatable," and his optimism is shared by Ahmed Musa, who scored Nigeria's two goals against Argentina.
"We have confidence as a team we can do it," he said.
Nigeria was the first African team to reach the knockout stages in Brazil, and others — Algeria and Ghana — could yet join them.
"I feel good, I feel honored," Keshi, who led the team to victory at last year's African Nations Cup, said. "It should be the same for the other Africans, they deserve it. "
Against Argentina, Nigeria twice came back from a goal down to level the score after strikes by Lionel Messi, but the Super Eagles were unable to recover from a 50th minute goal by Marcos Roja. By that stage, Iran was already losing to Bosnia-Herzegovina in the other group match, something striker Peter Odemwingie said was communicated to the team by the bench.
"It was a worry until that score was announced, but I think the game was so exciting most of the players had their eyes on the pitch just waiting for the equalizer," the Stoke City forward said. He scored the team's only goal against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Odemwingie, who fell out of favor with the national team two years ago but was called back for the World Cup, said his belief right from the start of the competition was that conditions in Brazil meant that the fittest team would win.
Asked whether Nigeria was fit, he replied with a smile: "We are getting better, day by day."