Following the 2018 Fifa World Cup Draw on December 1, freelance writer Sammie Frimpong, analyses each of the groups the five African teams were placed in. He looks at Nigeria in Group D.
I’ll leave it to you to decide whether Nigeria’s association with Argentina in FIFA World Cup history qualifies as rivalry or a love story, but what we could all agree on is that there is something definitely going on between those two.
Whatever that is, the World Cup — and its organizers, Fifa — must be loving it. It’s why, four times out of the five editions of the showpiece both have been at, Nigeria and Argentina got planted in the same group.
It’s also why, when the draw for the 2018 Fifa World Cup pitted the two powerhouses against each other a record fifth time, there were as many faces expressing déjà vu as there were of disbelief in the State Kremlin Palace (venue for said event).
Clearly, football hasn’t had enough — and neither has Nigeria, losers in all four previous meetings. The next, then, should offer the Green Eagles the opportunity to finally overcome an Argentina side that almost didn’t make the line-up for Russia.
It does help that Nigeria staged a remarkable come-from-behind victory in a friendly versus La Albiceleste last month — incidentally played in the same country that is to host the Mundial — and that result would surely inspire the latest batch of Nigerian internationals to do what four generations of their predecessors failed at: besting the Argentines on the biggest stage of them all.
Jorge Sampaoli’s team are only one-third of Nigeria’s Group D problems, however — and they don’t even show up till the final round of games.
First up are Croatia, otherwise known as the national team with the famous chequered shirts.
While not among the favorites to win Russia 2018, they boast a fine group of individuals that could spell trouble for any opponent: in-form Inter Milan stars Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic, Spain-based Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, as well as Juventus forward Mario Mandzukic, among others.
That’s a load of ammunition which more than justifies Croatia’s ‘Fiery Ones’ nickname but Nigeria boss Gernot Rohr would do well to devise a strategy that would keep out, not just the Croatian heat, but also the ice-cold jabs of the Eagles’ second opponents, Iceland.
Iceland – an island with a population less than 1% of Nigeria’s – played Croatia twice in qualification for the World Cup as both nations were in the same group losing on the road and winning the reverse.
They ultimately claimed the sole direct ticket on offer forcing Croatia to get to Russia via the playoffs -that should underline just how good the Nordic country is in case their impressive run to the quarter-finals of the last European Championship failed to drive the point home well enough.
Unlike Croatia and Argentina -even Nigeria- Iceland don’t have too many stars.
England-based Gylfi Sigurdsson stands out as the best-known name on the team sheet followed perhaps distantly by Augsburg man Alfred Finnbogason
But their greatest strength is in the collective and their head coach Heimir Hallgrímsson, who, like this writer, is also a dental professional — would seek to tap into that remarkable team ethos.
Given just how little is known of the Icelandic team, many opine they might prove the most challenging of Nigeria’s group-mates.
The two countries have only ever met once on the international stage, a game Nigeria lost 3-0 back in 1981, and Rohr and his technical staff would be expected to do more than the usual homework to sort this one out.
One thing is certain, though: when the pair clash in the industrial city of Volvograd, Iceland’s fans would be as loud
with their famous Viking thunder-clap as Nigeria’s would be with their ever-present brass-band tunes.
Should Nigeria — who have a decent record against European opposition at the World Cup, winning five of eight games — deal with their first two tests well enough, they wouldn’t have to worry much about Lionel Messi and Co. in their final match.
The key to doing so?
Rohr tells us: “We have a young team. We are getting better so we will be humble and continue to work hard in other to bring happiness to the Nigerian people.”
By: Sammie Frimpong/ citifmonline.com/Ghana