World Cup Group D: Super Eagles fly unfriendly skies against La Albiceleste
Four times the Super Eagles of Nigeria has faced Argentina in the World Cup group stage. Four times they’ve lost. Once beaten twice shy, they say, what can the Eagles say about four? Still, all is not lost. At least not yet. I write, not just for Nigeria but for Argentina’s La Albiceleste. Both teams will have all to play for when they square up in St Petersburg on Tuesday.
From the get-go, the objective of every team at the World Cup is how to make it beyond the group stage. One way to achieve this is by taking it one game at a time. Nigeria and Argentina aren’t looking any further than each other. They can’t do that, even if they wanted to. But for Croatia, who is already through to the next stage, can look forward. Any one side from Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland can join the Croats in round two with a win on matchday three.
In the United States in 1994, Nigeria made it’s World Cup debut. That Super Eagles team was Nigeria’s most impressive team to ever play in the tournament. Impressive as they were, they still fell 2-1 to the Argentines, although it didn’t stop them from making it past their group. They met again at the same stage in 2002, 2010 and 2014 – the Albiceleste never dropped a point. It's safe to say the Super Eagles does not fancy flying over Argentine skies.
As history will have it, the South Americans will meet the Africans again at the group stage. This time, the Argentines are at an all-time low as opposed to the high-flying Super Eagles.
FIFA Ranking: 48th
On matchday one, Nigeria were far from convincing against a Croatia side who weren’t so good themselves. But the Super Eagles arose like a phoenix to break the Iceland ice. A breathtaking second-half performance against the Vikings lifted the Nigerians to a 2-0 victory. That victory did two things for them: it kept alive their chances of making it beyond group D, while it also left the back door open for their familiar foes, Argentina. They need to shut that door on Tuesday.
The Super Eagles changed their shape in that game against Iceland. Rather than the all-too-familiar 4-2-3-1 system, Gernot Rohr went for three at the back in a 3-5-2 formation. Once again, Nigeria made a slow start and were totally contained in the first half by their European foe. They, however, flew out of the blocks in the second period with Ahmed Musa obliterating the Iceland defence with his blistering pace. The CSKA Moscow striker entered the Nigerian history books with a remarkable brace.
Nigeria skipper, Mikel John Obi was seen clutching his wrist as the encounter against Iceland drew to a close but he’s been declared match-fit so there are no injury worries for the Africans.
There’s never been a better time for Nigeria to exact revenge on Argentina for all those years of heartaches.
FIFA Ranking: 5th
The Argentines are not down and out yet. Nevertheless, their future is out of their hands. Regardless of the outcome of the game against Nigeria, Lionel Messi and his bunch of underperforming teammates would be headed for Buenos Aires if Iceland finds their mojo against Croatia. By the way, that is quite possible. Zlatko Dalic has disclosed his plan to field a weakened team against the Ice nation. Croatia can afford it, they’ve already won the group.
It’s not working for Argentina at this tournament. They look more like a hastily put-together bunch of superstars than a team. Jorge Sampoli has failed woefully in finding a tactical solution. But for an individual Sergio Aguero strike against Iceland, the Albiceleste would be without a World Cup goal in Russia. Lionel Messi isn’t lifting spirits either. The talismanic Barcelona striker seems resigned to fate. Such a lazy excuse for a captain.
Despite the moodiness in the Argentine camp, they possess enough talent to crack open the Nigerian defence if they are committed enough. They don’t have any player on the treatment table so there’ll be no excuse.
Argentina is expected to come all out to demolish the Nigerians. I expect them to throw caution to the wind in doing so. This would present plenty of opportunities for fast-paced Super Eagles attackers like Musa and Victor Moses to exploit.
Forecasting a goal-laden affair won’t be too smart. Only once has this encounter yielded more than one strike. I can’t predict a clean-sheet for La Albiceleste. Not if Willy Caballero starts in goal.
There’s draw written all over this one for me. I say 1-1.