With the Super Eagles of Nigeria getting their FIFA World Cup 2018 campaign underway against Croatia at the Kaliningrad Stadium on Saturday, expectation is high from their die hard supporters.
Nigeria boss Gernot Rohr has already admitted that there will be no excuses if the Super Eagles fail at the World Cup, which presumably will mean if they do not get out of a tricky Group D also containing Argentina and Iceland, the Mundial will be a failure for the Eagles.
Our team of experts are confident that Nigeria will get through with Argentina.
But as a team rated 48th in the FIFA Rankings, do Eagles really have a chance?
1. Right manager?
Usually for international tournaments the home press and bookmakers tend to overestimate Nigeria’s chances and they tend to be put in the mix of the top eight. This time, in no uncertain terms, some are pessimistic. Very few people expect Nigeria to get beyond the first round, if they even get that far, which means manager Rohr has the small task of proving all his doubters wrong. He is not blessed with a particularly strong squad, but this is the sort of situation he thrives upon.
Looking at his most recent managerial experience his best work has come without the pressure of expectation. He masterminded a ruthless World Cup qualification campaign for the former African champions.
2. Key opponents
Each team that Nigeria will take on in Group D will pose a different kind of threat, but all have players capable of hurting them. On paper, Nigeria will really be up against magicians in the “Group of Death”.
Lionel Messi!!!!! What, you thought I was going to say Higuain? No team’s chances hinge as much on one player as Argentina’s with Messi. If anyone can handle that unfathomable burden, it’s the greatest player of this generation.
Luka Modric’s ability to control the midfield will be pivotal. His quality will be handy for the Blades.
Johan Berg Gudmundsson appeared in 35 Premier League games for Burnley last season, helping the club earn a place in the Europa League. He’ll play a big role in Iceland’s attack, alongside Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Eagles will be drilled, however by Iceland’s Sigurdsonn. so expect chances to be limited to the two dangermen. They are the sort who can take their only chance of a game, of course.
Nigeria’s squad a strong mix of youth and experience. They look to be a big threat in the central midfield area where the likes of John Obi Mikel and Wilfred Ndidi operates. Rohr’s midfield selection for the opening game will be crucial.
3. The squad
One thing that Nigeria have lacked in recent tournaments is a player who has been able to up their game on the big stage. That man should be Victor Moses. He is fit and motivated for Nigeria, but he will certainly need to prove this if the Eagles are to navigate past the group.
Rohr has selected a good blend of young players and experienced ones and in some cases – Ndidi at defensive midfield, for example – has trusted youth over age. There are concerns in the squad, however, namely a weakness in central defence and several untested players. Rohr can certainly cobble together a competitive XI but, should they progress through the tournament, is the whole squad strong enough?
Futbalgalore.com’s prediction: Argentina have a very strong attack but their squad is weighted heavily in favour of forwards – they can certainly be beaten tactically and Rohr is the man to achieve this. Croatia may not have the strongest team they have ever had, but they cannot be ruled out and it would be a big surprise if they do not get out of the group. Iceland performed in Euro 2016 as they marched on to the last eight. With that in mind it could be between Croatia and Nigeria for the second spot, and with Rohr at the helm the Eagles do have a real chance.