Is the World Cup dream already over for Nigeria?
Saturday night witnessed Nigeria succumb to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Croatia. The result leaves the Super Eagles propping up Group D. With two games to go, can they recover?
The 2018 World Cup has had everything thus far. Drama, standout performances, late goals and shocks. Nigeria felt positive about causing an upset heading into their match against the Croats. They came away with a beating, however.
To be fair, the Super Eagles weren't outplayed. Had it not been for some slack defending, they could have collected a valuable point. More worrying for Gernot Rohr is how his team struggled to create clear-cut chances. They exchanged clever flicks at times, but the final ball was often lacking.
Nigeria entered Russia in poor goalscoring form. They never looked like finding Croatia's net, managing just two shots on target.
Odion Ighalo was starved of service all game. The striker only once tested Danijel Subasic. That's more than Alex Iwobi offered; the midfielder's threat was completely nullified on the right. He had zero influence. Victor Moses, meanwhile, looked capable. His delivery into the box left much to be desired, though.
The group's other match ended a 1-1 draw between the 'mighty' Argentina and Iceland. The result means qualification is still open for all four teams. Neither is assured of making the knockout round, not even La Albiceleste, a side considered overwhelming favourites.
Next up, Argentina take on Croatia and Nigeria face Iceland. It's vitally important the Super Eagles get something from the game, preferably all three points. But it won't prove easy. Heimir Hallgrimsson's men are strong competitors, making them difficult to break down.
After a good performance to earn a point in their opening game, Iceland must feel confident of advancing. Looking ahead to their next two contests, Nigeria is probably the easier. Strákarnir okkar have sights set on ending the African side's dream.
Despite taking a youthful, relatively inexperienced squad, the Super Eagles went into the World Cup with great expectations. Some even tagged them Africa's best hope. Bowing out so early would be disappointing, to say the least. Rohr has work to do.
The Nigeria coach has improved the team tremendously since taking over in 2016. He's bettered the organisation, both on and off the ball, as well as the transition from defence to attack, although defending set pieces remains a problem.
Rohr, though, should rethink how he sets up against Iceland on Friday. Ighalo cut an isolated figure for large parts against Croatia. Starting with two up top would suit the Nigerians more. A partnership between Kelechi Iheanacho and Ighalo is sure to excite.
In my opinion, it would be somewhat naive to think Nigeria won't make it past the 'Group of Death'. There were enough positive signs against Croatia to suggest results will be picked up in the next two games. Having reached the last 16 four years ago in Brazil, don't rule out the Super Eagles just yet.