Coach Gernot Rohr declared on Thursday that Nigeria’s Super Eagles are “physically and mentally ready” for their first match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals coming up on Saturday against Croatia.
Rohr, a former German international defender who coached the national senior teams of Burkina Faso, Niger Republic and Gabon, and top Tunisia Club Etoile du Sahel before taking charge of the Super Eagles two years ago, insisted that his wards are in no mood to play second fiddle at the Kaliningrand Stadium.
“We are looking forward to the match with a lot of optimism. It will be a tough one, but we are physically and mentally ready. We had quality preparatory matches and trained twice at our final camp in Austria, and since arriving in Essentuki, we have done some useful tactical preparation.
“It is important to start well in a good tournament like this, and that is what we hope to do on Saturday,” Rohr told the world media on Thursday.
The Super Eagles flew into the Kaliningrad Khrabrovo Airport on Thursday evening from Essentuki, about 48 hours to the clash with Croatia at the 35,000-capacity Kaliningrad Stadium.
Captain Mikel John Obi, one of only four members of the current Eagles’ squad that featured at the last finals in Brazil four years ago, said: “It is the dream of every footballer to play at the FIFA World Cup and we have to live that dream on Saturday. Croatia is a very good team with a lot of top class players and we have to be at our very best against them.
“This group is probably the toughest in the tournament; everyone is calling it the ‘group of death’. That is the motivation. We have given ourselves the target of coming out of this group just like we did in the African qualifying group that everyone gave the same tag.
“As our coach has said, we worked hard at both the camp in Austria and since we got to the team base camp in Essentuki. Our Football Federation also did well to get us to prepare in very good places devoid of distraction and now, it is our responsibility to do the nation proud by starting well against Croatia.”
Kaliningrad, the farthest part of Russia to the west, bordered by Poland and Lithuania, and used to be known as Konigsberg, assumed its new name and became part of the Soviet Union the year after the end of the Second World War. The Kaliningrad Stadium was specifically built for the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals.
Saturday will mark Nigeria’s sixth appearance at the FIFA World Cup finals, in seven tournaments since making her debut at the 1994 finals in the USA. In previous outings, the Eagles had made it to the Round of 16 on three occasions – the only African team to have gone that far that many times. This was in 1994, 1998 and 2014. The team failed to emerge from the group stage in 2002 and 2010.
The only time Nigeria has missed football’s biggest showpiece in the last quarter–century was in 2006, when a head-to-head rule knocked out the Eagles despite finishing on equal points and superior goals to Angola – which was enough to guarantee qualification in normal situations.