Russia 2018 Preview – It’s a Bird? No! It is the Nigerian flag bearers at FIFA World Cup! Football fans across the globe can barely contain their excitement never mind the almost absent hype in the buildup to the tournament. The FIFA World Cup 2018 is the 21st edition of the quadrennial event and Russia is set to host this year’s edition.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria were the first team from Africa to qualify for the international football tournament. This is the Super Eagles’ fifth appearance at the World Cup finals since their debut appearance in 1994 and missing out on qualification in 2006. The Super Eagles have made it out of the group stages and onto the round of 16 on 3 occasions – 1994, 1996 and 2014 – with 1994 a stand out tournament heralded by a team which is largely regarded as the golden generation in Nigerian football history.
The journey to Russia has been an eventful one for the Nigerian Super Eagles. From going unbeaten during the qualifying rounds, to their headline making home and away strips – which sold out within minutes of release, to friendly defeats at the hands of England’s three Lions and Czech republic. The qualifying run had Nigerians optimistic about the Eagles chances in Russia, but the defeats in the warm up games may have dampened any previously held optimism and served as a reality check for the Super Eagle’s fans ahead of the Word Cup.
Despite the appeal of their uniforms and all-round game, the friendly games highlighted strengths and weaknesses of the Nigerian team. Their tendency to start games slowly and their defensive frailties need to be quickly addressed if the Super Eagles are to soar high in Russia and make it to the knockout stages.
Nigeria has been drawn in Group D with Argentina – a fixture that may very well be likened to Bayern Munich vs Arsenal at the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions league – alongside Croatia and Iceland. The Super Eagles’ first game is against Croatia on the 16th of June, 2018 with the Croats boasting an impressive lineup with Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic championing their midfield. The Super Eagles will do well to reduce the amount of time and space they have on the ball as they can be devastating if they are afforded such.
Next up is Iceland, a team that exemplifies how dogged determination is sometimes enough to ensure victory, as their exploits in Euro 2016 and their subsequent elimination of England show. They may be limited in terms of talent with Everton’s Gyfli Sigurdsson being the only standout member of the squad, but the Scandinavians are not to be underestimated, as they seem to have mastered the art of causing major footballing upsets. The Super Eagles square off with them on the 22nd of June, 2018.
Finally, there’s Argentina – the Super Eagles most familiar opponents in World Cup history. The Albiceleste have an incredibly talented forward line which boasts the likes of Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi – the diminutive forward with an ethereal like movement on the ball, and Angel Di Maria, but have been dogged by underwhelming performances during qualification and having to rely heavily on Messi to bail them out during the play offs to secure a World Cup spot.
At face value, the Albiceleste and Croatians pose the greatest threat to Nigeria’s chances of progressing to the next round. On paper, the Super Eagles team looks solid enough, considering Nigeria beat Argentina in a friendly match late last year. The performance of the Eagles in the second half was elating but recent outings have shown how shaky the defensive line is. The lack of an experienced goaltender between the sticks is also a major concern, as Gernot Rohr’s preferred goalkeeping option, Francis Uzoho’s lack of experience and game time last season may very well affect the Super Eagle’s chances against organized sides at the World cup.
The midfield line-up is a little inspiring, featuring the likes of Wilfred Ndidi, John Mikel Obi, Onazi and Etebo who have a reputation for organization and top level football experience amongst them. If Rohr can find the right combination in his midfield during this world cup, his team might be able to pull off a few major upsets during the tournament.
Alex Iwobi’s presence in the attacking line-up is highly commendable. He has shown his quality during the warm-up games despite his team’s losses. If the likes of Ahmed Musa and Odion Ighalo can be made to spark in Russia, then the Super Eagles might even make it past the second round of the tournament.
There are a lot of positives to take away from the Super Eagles run to this tournament so far, and their fans will no doubt fancy their chances against their group stage opponents, but if they become complacent and indulge their weaknesses, they may be in for a rude shock.
Our money is on the Nigerian team progressing past the group stages of the World cup in Russia, tell us how far you think the Super Eagles will go with the line-up listed below:
Daniel Akpeyi (Chippas United)
Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Eyimba FC)
Francis Uzoho (Deportivo La Coruňa)
Brian Idowu (Arkma Perm)
Leon Balogun (Brighton & Hove Albion)
Shehu Abdullahi (Buraspor)
Elderson Echiejile (Cerlce Brugge)
Kenneth Omuero (Chelsea)
William Troost-Ekong (Buraspor)
Chidozie Awadiem (Nantes)
Tyronne Ebuechi (Benfica)
John Obi Mikel – Captain (Tiajin Teda)
Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City)
Victor Moses (Chelsea)
Oghenekaro Etebo (Las Palmas)
Ogenyi Onazi (Trabzanspor)
John Ogu (Hapoel Be’er Sheva)
Joel Obi (Torino)
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal)
Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow)
Kelechi Ihenacho (Leicester City)
Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai)
Simeon Nwanko (Crotone).