PROFILE: What does Nigeria bring to the 2018 World Cup in Russia?
Nigeria go into the 2018 World Cup as arguably Africa’s most successful side in the history of the tournament and the only nation from the continent to reach the second round on previous three occasions.
But they will do well to match that feat this time round‚ despite the astute coaching of German Gernot Rohr and a smoother build-up off the pitch than they have had to many a tournament in the past.
The Super Eagles are‚ on the face of it‚ a happy camp‚ and arrived in Russia on Tuesday with expectation back home at its usual high level.
But they have a tough first round pool against giants Argentina‚ a very good Iceland side and a Croatian team that has traditionally been rugged and difficult to beat.
That Nigeria face Argentina again is one of the more remarkable statistics to come out of this tournament – the Super Eagles have now appeared in six previous World Cup finals and will meet the South Americans for the fifth time.
Argentina have won all their previous meetings at the World Cup‚ including a thrilling 3-2 success in Brazil four years ago‚ but Nigeria did beat them 4-2 in a friendly in Russia last November.
Rohr’s side open their 2018 campaign against Croatia on Saturday‚ before what could be a vital clash with Iceland on June 22.
Nigeria’s population stands at close to 200-million people‚ while Iceland is just 335‚000‚ the smallest nation ever to appear at the World Cup‚ but the islanders could be more than a match for the west Africans.
The Super Eagles play their final Group D fixture against the Argentines on June 26.
The straight-talking Rohr did not mince his words ahead of their opener with Croatia‚ admitting the European side were the better team.
“We admire this team‚ but we do not plan to watch them when we play against them‚ we hope to fight‚” he told reporters.
“They are all wonderful players‚ playing in biggest teams in Europe. On paper with their names‚ Croatia are much better than us.
“The team are ready physically after we worked well and showed commitment in [the training camp in] Austria‚ We have another three days to be ready tactically.”
Nigeria’s squad contains the only PSL player at the World Cup‚ Chippa United goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi‚ though he is not first choice.
Other notable names include Chelsea defender Kenneth Omeruo and midfielder Victor Moses‚ new Brighton & Hove Albion signing Leon Balogun‚ Chinese-based John Obi Mikel‚ Arsenal forward Alex Iwobi‚ and Leicester City players Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho.
But to be honest this is a far cry from the Golden Generation that competed at the 1994 World Cup and included the likes of Sunday Oliseh‚ Stephen Keshi‚ Finidi George‚ Rashidi Yekini‚ Jay-Jay Okocha and Daniel Amokachi.
The form of the side has been patchy of late too‚ in 2018 they have beaten Poland and drawn with DR Congo‚ but lost to Serbia‚ England and most recently Czech Republic.
They will do well to book a fourth second round appearance and match their feats of 1994‚ 1998 and 2014.