On Tuesday, June 26, 2018, at a 7.00pm (Nigerian time), the Super Eagles of Nigeria will trade tackles with their counterparts from Argentina in a crucial Group D match, in the city of St Petersburg to determine the who gets the other ticket from the group to advance into the round of 16.
Croatia’s impressive victories in their first two games in the group stage mean that they go through with a game to spare while Nigeria, Argentina, and Iceland all have a mathematical chance of picking up the remaining ticket for the group.
It is, therefore, imperative that the Super Eagles get a win or at least a draw against the Lionel Messi-led Argentina to advance to the round of 16.
Even though Croatia currently tops Group D with Nigeria currently occupying the second position, they could drop to the second position if Nigeria wins against Argentina and Croatia loses depending on goal differential.
Thus, although, Croatia is guaranteed a place in the second round, the Croats still need to get at least a draw against Iceland to get the top spot in the group. Argentina will need to beat Nigeria to get a chance of qualifying for the Round of 16.
The Super Eagles must, therefore, keep their heads cool to ensure that they earn at least a draw against a team with the likes of Lionel Messi, KünAguero, Higuain, Di Maria, Mascherano, and Otamendi.
Argentina would be hoping that their dominance against Nigeria in previous world cup games will give them the edge that they need. In the previous encounters at the group stages in 1994, 2002, 2010 and 2014, Argentina has always emerged the victorious side.
A Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina beat Nigeria by 2 goals to one at the first meeting between both countries at the world cup in 1994. At the last world cup encounter in 2014, Lionel Messi led Argentina ran away with a victory beating Nigeria by three goals to two.
Expectedly, Argentina on paper is the stronger side and are expected by bookmakers to win against an in-experienced Nigerian side who have 18 players making their world cup debut.
However, the Super Eagles will fancy their chances of beating Argentina having come on top at the last friendly between both sides where Nigeria defeated an Argentina side playing without Lionel Messi by four goals to two.
The Super Eagles and their fans will be hoping that the dismal performance of Argentina in their first two games in Russia 2018 will favour a Nigeria win.
Argentina failed to beat Iceland in their first match and was forced to a draw with their best player, Lionel Messi missing a penalty kick and failing to impress against a stubborn Iceland defense.
Their second match against Croatia further revealed that all is not well with the South Americans as they fell to a well organized Croatian team with a very mobile midfield.
The body language of the Argentines seems to suggest that they may be having troubles in their camp and this could be affecting their performance on the field of play. It is shocking that a team with players in top clubs in the world are producing at a mediocre level.
There seems to be no urgency with the team. Pundits all over the world expect that Lionel Messi, who was not born the time the Albiceleste last lifted the World Cup trophy in 1986, should lift the team to glory at a time when he is in the twilight of his very illustrious footballing career.
The Super Eagles must be wary of the Albiceleste as the victory against Iceland means that Argentina now has a good chance of qualifying.
The assumption that Argentina is having a poor World Cup outing does not mean that the Super Eagles should be relaxed. To the contrary, statistics seem to suggest otherwise. According to FIFA statistics so far, Argentina are the best-attacking team with 135 attacks. Lionel Messi also has the most attempts at goal with 12 attempts.
One of the criticisms against Lionel Messi is that he has not been able to replicate his club form for his country. This may not be utterly correct as Messi was instrumental to Argentina’s second-place finish at the previous World Cup in Brazil 2014.
However, it is true that the Argentine goal-machine has not won any senior trophy with Argentina. Again, Argentina has not seen the best of Messi in the blue and white stripes because the Argentina team does not have the kind of support that Messi derives from the Barcelona midfield.
It is expected that as the Argentina team reviews its performance so far at the tournament, a probable strategy to overcome the Super Eagles will be for the Albecestte to play to support Messi.
Hopefully, the Super Eagles would be looking at providing the antidote for Messi. Captain John Mikel Obi has played against Messi several times beginning from the under 20 level and at the 2014 edition of the World Cup.
Coach Rohr also must get his men in the midfield to ensure that they cut the supply of balls to Messi. With Etebo, Mikel and Ndidi at the top of their game, Nigeria has what it takes to stop Messi and co.
The Super Eagles match against Iceland has shown some positives. Nigeria’s young side have the speed for what they lack in experience. The speed of Musa, Moses, Iwobi, and Etebo can cause Argentina a lot of damage.
However, Moses must henceforth work on his delivery in the final third. Against an attacking side like Argentina, all forays into their area must be with finesse and precision in order not to give the opponents the ball unnecessarily and provide them opportunities to hit the Eagles on the counter.
Rohr would need to start Ebuehi in place of Idowu at right wing back as the former provides the Eagles with an attacking option along the left wing. It is also possible that Messi may be operating on that wing on the Argentina side.
Ebuehi would, therefore, need to be careful so as not to attract unnecessary free kicks. Argentina have hurt Nigeria severally with set pieces.
The Eagles must watch out for this. Conceedinguneceasary penalties in successive games show a weakness in the team. The Super Eagles must work on this as the Argentines can be very technical and shrewd.
Balogun, Omeruo, and Troost-Ekong did a good job against Iceland. The trio will face a bigger test with the likes of Aguero, Higuain, Dybala, Di Maria, and Messi.
They must remain cool-headed and play their game. The news that there is no love lost among the Argentines should be to Nigeria’s advantage.
Recent reports that the senior players in the team want to make the key decisions for Argentina, if the reports are true, means that the Super Eagles will have a psychological edge over the Argentines.
In a recent interview just before the start of the World Cup, Argentina’s most capped player, 33-year old Javier Mascherano is reported to have said this to a Guardian (UK) reporter:
“Croatia is a first-class side with top players, especially in the midfield, such as Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic, Rakitic … Perisic; a team to watch out, quality squad. And Nigeria are quite well known to us, we’ve always met in the last World Cups.
They’re tough, not just because of their physical power, but because their disorganization has the effect of disorganizing you as a rival. And that’s when teams like ours suffer the most – in disorder.”
One wonders what the Argentine means by that statement. Does he mean that the Super Eagles do not play as a team or that in his previous encounters with Nigeria, the team in green played without cohesion? Whatever Javier means must be the edge the Super Eagles must capitalize on to hurt Argentina.
On Tuesday, it is going to be battle in St Petersburg. The battle will see an experienced Argentina side locking horns with a relatively youthful and inexperienced Nigerian team.
It will be a battle between the stars from Argentina against regular players from Nigeria. It is a battle every Nigerian hope that the Super Eagles will, in Mascherano’s words “disorganize” Argentina.
The Super Eagles are the underdogs. The pressure will be more on Argentina who have played two Copa America final games and lost both to Chile since after they lost in 2014 final in Brazil to Germany.
Argentina will be hoping that this generation of players gets a senior team trophy before the likes of Messi, Mascherano, Aguero, and Higuain retire from international football.
On the part of Nigeria, the Super Eagles will want to announce themselves to the world. With the support of over 185 million Nigerians, the Super Eagles, like the biblical David have what it takes to beat Goliath in the mould of Argentina at the battle of St Petersburg on Tuesday, 26 June 2018.
Guest Writer – Augustine Arimoro
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