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Nigeria back to last chance salon as Eagles battle with Iceland

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Super Eagles in training session before their duel against Iceland in today’s must-win game at the Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament. PHOTO: AFP


It is back to 2010 for Team Nigeria at the on-going FIFA World Cup in Russia. As it was the case at the first World Cup hosted by Africa in South Africa, Nigeria must beat or get at least a draw with Iceland to resuscitate its hope of qualifying for the second round of the competition.

Eight years ago, Nigerians were forced to resort to prayers for the Super Eagles’ salvation in the battle with Greece, following the team’s first match loss to Argentina. It is the same situation today, as Nigeria must beat Iceland to retain hopes of remaining in the competition. It was not meant to be this way.

Going into the competition, Super Eagles’ fans believed their team had the quality to surmount the opposition mounted by Croatia, Iceland and former world champions, Argentina in Group D of the greatest sports fiesta on earth. It did not matter that on paper the other three teams in Group D were rated higher than the Eagles. It did not matter that Croatia, Argentina and Iceland have more renowned players than the Super Eagles, who were going into their first international competition after failing to qualify for two back-to-back African Nations Cup. The consideration was the manner Nigeria dismissed higher rated Algeria, Cameroun and Zambia to pick the ticket to Russia. And of course, Nigeria is the giant of Africa. But Croatia brought the country and its fans back to reality last week with a 2-0 win.

In South Africa 10 years ago, after losing 0-1 to Argentina in its opening game, Nigeria needed to get at least a draw and a win in its last two games against Greece and South Korea to make the second round. None of that happened as the Super Eagles lost to Greece and then drew with South Korea in a game that Yakubu Aiyegbeni made history for the worst miss in a FIFA World Cup match.

It is déjà vu once again as Nigeria must beat Iceland in Volgograd today. Iceland held Argentina to a 1-1 draw in their first game of the competition and so needs a good result against Nigeria to retain hopes of making the second round in their first participation in the World Cup.

Following the 0-2 loss to Croatia, the Super Eagles held a crisis meeting in their Essentuki camp and resolved to win their remaining games to qualify for the second round. They will face the first test of that resolve today at the Volgograd Arena.

Nigeria has only won just one of its last 13 matches at the World Cup and Coach Coach Gernot Rohr knows the enormity of the task before his team.Speaking after the loss to Croatia, Rohr blamed the defeat on nerves and elementary defensive mistakes by his players, especially when defending set pieces. But he promised to correct such mistakes before today.

Iceland held Argentina with a defensive solidity which their coach, Heimir Hallgrimsson described as a “schoolbook example” of how to defend against Lionel Messi’s Argentina. It is up to Rohr to fashion a way to breach that defence, especially with a strike force that did not trouble Croatia in 94 minutes.Rohr is positive because only one point separates Nigeria with Argentina and Iceland. ‘‘We are only one point behind Iceland and all is in our hands, so let’s be positive. Let them learn from this defeat (against Croatia) and try to do better,’’ he said.

Midfielder, Wilfred Ndidi, who was carpeted by fans for his inept output on Saturday, wants Nigerians to expect a different Super Eagles today. Ndidi said the players had resolved to die rather than lose to Iceland in Volgograd. The players, he said, know that a good outing against Iceland will enhance their profile hence their determination to win.

Another player, who has promised to redeem himself, is Odion Ighalo. The China-based attacker was rated as one of the worst players on the pitch in the opening game, but he has vowed to make amends in the Iceland game,

“The Iceland game will be different from the Croatian one. We want to attack in that game and we want to create chances because only with chances you score goals. “Our team spirit is very important to us. No matter if we win or lose, we are always united and thinking the same way. We believe in this unity and we believe in our team,” he said.While Nigeria is hoping for a better outing today, Iceland, which recorded a famous victory when it beat England at the Euro 2016, wants to add a new chapter to its newfound height.

Coach Hallgrimsson told the media before their training session yesterday that his team was psychologically ready for Nigeria.“We look at everything with the mindset that we have found a formula that works for us today. And we try to get everybody to follow it. We’ve tried to find what kind of playing style, what kind of characteristics this Icelandic team needs to have, and what identity an Iceland national player needs to have. And this is the way for Iceland to be successful.

“We are not of the opinion that we are at all better than Nigeria. We know our strengths, and need to make the best of them,” Hallgrimsson said.Apart from the on pitch battle, the Scandinavians want to win the fans’ war at the terraces with the number of people available to cheer them to victory. It is as if the country of less than 500,000 people has been emptied into Volgograd.

Volgograd Airport has said three planes with fans from Iceland will arrive in the southern Russian city of Volgograd today for the match against Nigeria.The fans are traveling not only by planes but also by the railroad.“Three additional trains will arrive in Volgograd from Moscow on Friday. They will transport around 1,200 fans to the game,” said the Privolzhskaya railway authority.


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