More Than Just A Fashion Statement: Previewing Nigeria’s World Cup Chances

The Super Eagles of Nigeria have sure generated some fanfare before this tournament thanks to their beautiful and unique jerseys — Nike sold out in 3 minutes. If you could own one World Cup jersey, then that one should be Nigeria. Unfortunately for them, they will need more than a beautiful kit to get through group D – the Group of Death. Nigeria is the lowest ranked team in that group according to the FIFA rankings, so they’ll need to be on their A game to advance.

Qualification for Russia wasn’t supposed to be anything close to easy for the Nigerian team, but they made it so. They were grouped alongside Africa powerhouses, and at that time, were the lowest ranked team according to the FIFA rankings just like they are in their World Cup group now. The team was paired with a massively talented Algerian team, the resilient Chipolopolos of Zambia and the current AFCON champions, Cameroon. They did not only qualify with a game to spare, they did so playing beautiful attacking football.

Who’s the coach?

The team is managed by the 64 year old German tactician, Gernot Rohr – who has had stints with clubs in Germany and France before managing some national teams in Africa, but he has never coached a team in the World Cup. His arrival brought a spark to the team especially after a rough patch with Sunday Oliseh. Nigerians have been happy with his performances for now, but with a population that’s not particularly patient with their coaches he’ll have to show well at the WC.

Strengths

Nigeria goes into the tournament with the youngest squad of all participating teams with an average age of 25.4 years and as a result they are quite a fast, energetic, and enthusiastic side. Specifically the pace of the attack is a major strength on the flanks. They can switch from defense to attack in an eye blink due to the fast, young and technically gifted attackers they have. Victor Moses is their go to man. The Chelsea wing back, who plays in his preferred attacking role, is the chief creator and has singlehandedly won numerous matches for the team. He is supported by the young Arsenal star, Alex Iwobi, Leicester’s Iheanacho, former Watford striker – Odion Ighalo, and Ahmed Musa. They showed in the friendly against Argentina, when they came back from 2-0 to win 4-2, that on their day, they can click really extremely well.

The midfield also boasts of some pretty good players. Former Chelsea star, John Mikel Obi, who is captain of the side, is the mainstay of the midfield. His ball retention and playmaking abilities are key for the team and he can still roll back the years and put in superb displays for the Super Eagles. Mikel is usually partnered with Leciester’s star man, Wilfred Ndidi. Second best to Kante, Ndidi has mastered the act of ball winning and he’s fast becoming an authority in it. If Modric, Banega and co think they will penetrate the Super Eagles easily from the middle, they probably are not aware of Ndidi. Another noteworthy player is the Feirense player, Oghenekaro Etebo. He spent the second half of the just concluded season on loan at Spanish side, UD laspalmas. Even though he wasn’t able to help his avoid the drop, he had some decent performances when he played. Notable was the 1-1 home draw against Barca where he was one of the best players on the pitch. He gave Busquets and the entire Barca midfield a run for their money with his tenacity, mobility, resilience and strength. He is a perfect box to box midfielder and one to watch out for in the World Cup.

Weakness

Nigeria are far from perfect and if anything, the recent friendly matches against England and Czech Republic showed that the team has many flaws. Against England, especially in the first half, the team was spineless and out of its depth. They were outmuscled and outplayed and couldn’t recover until the second half. One obvious flaw is in the goalkeeping position. Deportivo’s fourth choice goalkeeper, Francis Uzoho, seems to be the coach’s choice, but he is just 19 years old and hardly plays for his club. Wolverhampton wonderers goalkeeper, Carl Ikeme was undisputed number one until he fell sick and was ruled out of football. Uzoho has featured in both friendlies, but still hasn’t convinced. He looks like he’s a disaster waiting to happen.

The centre back pairing of Leon balogun – who just signed for Brighton Albion on a free transfer- and Troost Ekong, the Bursaspor of Turkeyman, looked solid against African teams. Nigerians nicknamed them “The oyinbo wall” (oyinbo which means a white man in a native Yoruba language). But, the partnership of late has been porous; they’ve found it difficult to effectively stop attacks. The Super Eagles are also very poor in defending set pieces.

Expected Line-up

The team strength is on the flanks, so they usually play in a 4-3-3 formation. In the last two games though, the coach tried out a 3-4-2-1 formation, and I expect to see one of these set ups.

4-3-3

GK: Uzoho.

DF: Balogun, Ekong.

RB: Ebuehi.

LB: Idowu

DM: Ndidi

CM: Mikel, Etebo.

LW: Iwobi.

RW: Moses

SS: Ighalo.

Or

3-4-2-1

GK: Uzoho

DF: Balogun, Ekong, Ogu.

LW: Idowu

RW: Ebuehi

CM: Mikel, Ndidi

AM: Moses, Iwobi.

SS: Ighalo.

Nigeria is going to the World cup with a very inexperienced squad. Only five players from the previous edition made the cut. The goal is to surpass or at least match the feat achieved in the 1994 world cup: Round of 16 stage.

Nigeria play their first game against Croatia on the 16th of June at the Kaliningrad stadium, Kaliningrad before facing Iceland on the 22nd at the Volgograd Arena and then square up against Argentina on the 26th at the saint Petersburg stadium. Expectations on this Nigeria side aren’t super high, but many will soon find out, the Super Eagles won’t be a pushover.


Written by @Shinaspeaks