World Cup Group D: Can Iceland keep the Super Eagles of Nigeria trapped in phone booth?
Every group at the World Cup has that one team that no one expects to go through. In Group A it’s Saudi Arabia. For Group B Iran. Australia would surprise themselves if they make it past Group C. For Group D, however, Nigeria and Iceland find themselves in almost the same category. Both are primed to get knocked out. At least on paper.
We know Lionel Messi is not invincible, but there’s this small matter of what it takes to shackle him. Any fetter being used must be made of thick ice, iron and fire. Coming from a country that’s frozen for the better part of the year, the Iceland national team had Messi’s recipe on matchday one. Having valiantly won a point against the Albiceleste, the Vikings are brimming with confidence as they prepare to wade off some Eagles.
Exposed and humbled by Croatia on Saturday, the Nigerian Super Eagles must be feeling that tingling sensation already. They know they could be out of the tournament if they lose any of their two remaining games; the first of which is against the dauntless Icelandic nationals on Friday. Mind you, they’ve never faced Iceland in competitive football before....
FIFA Ranking: 48th
Since their first appearance in 1994, no Nigerian World Cup team has received the level of financial support this present team has. Millions of taxpayers money have been lavished on the Super Eagles to get them ready for the World Cup. Bonuses have been increased and paid in full.
That did not stop the Super Eagles from suffering an agonizing 2-0 defeat to Croatia. Back home, fans received the loss with a bitter taste. They flocked to social media to vent their frustration; insults were hauled at the players, the bashing on the team’s tactics was relentless. A marginal victory against Iceland is enough to turn those opinions upside down.
But first, the Super Eagles must get the tactics sorted. Nigeria play a 4-2-3-1 formation. It was the same system that got them to Russia. Against Croatia, it flopped woefully. Genort Rohr had played some players out of position. Skipper, Mikel John Obi would’ve done better if he was deployed in a central role rather than up front where he was mostly useless. Alex Iwobi who played on the flanks offered little, whereas he would’ve been a gem behind the striker. Oghenekaro Etebo was a waste of talent sitting in central midfield. Meanwhile, Victor Moses dribbled himself to the ground on his favoured right wing - Odion Ighalo was starved of supply up front. This restricted Nigeria to just two shots on target in the entire game.
There are no injury headaches for the Super Eagles. Still, commitment, coordination and tactical awareness must be at a heightened level if Nigeria will stand a chance against a resilient side such as Iceland. With the right players deployed in the right position, they might survive.
FIFA Ranking: 22nd
The Icelandic football team has undergone a massive facelift in the past six years. In June 2012, they were ranked 131st by FIFA. Fans gave up on them. But the country, which isn’t as big as the smallest state in Nigeria, had a roadmap to achieve success in football. The followed it judiciously. Today, Iceland is ranked 22nd in the world, regardless of being the smallest country at their first World Cup. Thier performance at the 2016 European Championships has many onlookers interested to see how they will perform on the biggest of stages.
Like we saw with Croatia in 1998, sometimes the unpredictability of being World Cup debutants can overshadow the effects of inexperience resulting in success. Iceland might be depending on that card. Everyone knows the Icelandic package, yet no one is taking them too seriously. They’ve already shocked Argentina by holding them to a one-all draw. Who knows what next they have up their frozen sleeves?
Everything Iceland does from this point would make history. When Alfred Finnbogason fired home the leveller against Argentina, it entered the record books as Iceland’s first ever World Cup goal. They’ll be chasing their first ever World Cup win against Nigeria.
Iceland's 4-4-1-1 formation which is set out to be defensive is difficult to fault. The team plays like a unit and scarcely loses concentration. With an orchestrator in Gylfi Sigurdsson, Our Boys can pile more misery on Nigeria.
This game has draw written all over it. Both teams are expected to fight for the three points that would mathematically keep them in the tournament.
I won’t rule this out, although they’re both evenly matched. A high-scoring game is out of the cards. These two teams will do everything in their might to shut each other out. One side will eventually crack.
The team with the better tactical ingenuity should emerge victoriously. Iceland is coached by a dentist but Heimir Hallgrímsson has been with this team for nearly eight years. In that period he’s made Iceland a very formidable side. His team should get the job done against Nigeria.
Iceland wins 2-1.