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Etafia says Nigeria cannot afford to lose against Croatia

Nigeria's forward Victor Moses (L) attends a training session with teammates at Essentuki Arena in southern Russia on June 14, 2018 ahead of Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament.
Nigeria's forward Victor Moses (L) attends a training session with teammates at Essentuki Arena in southern Russia on June 14, 2018 ahead of Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament.
Image: AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI

Former Nigeria international goalkeeper Greg Etafia believes it is crucial for the Super Eagles to not lose against Croatia in the West Africans’ opening Russia 2018 match at Kaliningrad Stadium.

Nigeria have a proud World Cup record‚ with this their sixth appearance at a finals‚ second only to Cameroon‚ with seven‚ as the most from Africa.

They have reached the second round in three of the five World Cup finals tournaments they have qualified for.

But they have a tough group to progress from at the 2018 Fifa World Cup‚ which also includes Argentina and Euro 2016 upstarts Iceland.

“For me‚ that is a tough group but I think that Nigeria are going to get through it to the next round. They can perhaps make the second position‚” Etafia‚ the former Moroka Swallows goalkeeper‚ said.

“I’m just hoping for them to start well. Because the last three World Cups they haven’t started well.

“They lost against Argentina in 2002 and 2010 and drew against Iran in Brazil in 2014.

“If they can get the three points against Croatia‚ they will have the momentum. They just mustn’t lose the first game‚ that’s all.

“I believe in the boys – I think they can do well.”

With Argentina‚ led by Lionel Messi‚ expected to win Group D‚ Nigeria and a Croatia outfit including Luka Modric‚ Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic should fight it out for second‚ though Iceland can be a more-than effective spanner in the works.

“In any tournament‚ the first game is very important‚” Etafia said.

“But Nigeria mustn’t lose against Croatia – that’s the only thing.

“Because Croatia play against Argentina next and if Nigeria can put Croatia under pressure it can work well for the Nigerians.

“Iceland are also a very good side. We saw that at Euro 2016. It’s a very tricky group – you have to start well.

“The second place is likely to be between Croatia and Nigeria. So whoever can get three points in the game between them will be crucial.”

China-based veteran playmaker John Obi Mikel‚ Chelsea forward Victor Moses and young Arsenal attacker Alex Iwobi are the stars of coach Gernot Rohr’s current Super Eagles.

“Mikel Obi‚ the captain‚ is a big star – he’s been there for long. You have Victor Moses who’s a big star‚ and Alex Iwobi‚” Etafia said.

“And don’t forget Wilfred Ndidi‚ the midfielder from Leicester City. A player like [CSKA Moscow’s] Ahmed Musa will probably come off the bench.”

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