But few people considered them potential world champions as they had yet to prove they could beat the world's leading nations when it mattered.
They had the chance to rectify that in their opening group clash with the highly-rated Spain, who had their own stars in Fernando Hierro, Luis Enrique and Raul.
Nigeria started badly and only a great save from Peter Rufai prevented Raul scoring in the opening seconds.
The Real Madrid striker hit the bar with a header after five minutes and Alfonso went close moments later.
In the 21st minute, Spain capitalised on their domination when a Hierro free-kick was deflected off the wall and past Rufai.
Completely outplayed and a goal down, many teams would have struggled to recover.
But Nigeria were back on level terms within three minutes as Mutiu Adepoju leapt between two Spanish defenders to head home a corner.
From then on the pattern of the match was set.