Nigeria and Argentina will re-enact their football rivalry as the Super Eagles and the La Albicelestes were grouped in the same cluster D, alongside Croatia and Iceland in yesterday’s World Cup draw at the Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia.
Argentina, twice World Champions, had beaten Nigeria in all previous meetings at the World Cup – USA 94, Japan/Korea 2002, South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014. However, Nigeria defeated them 4-2 in a friendly match last month.
Iceland and Croacia, the two other teams in Nigeria’s group, are also expected to give the Super Eagles a tough time at Russia 2018, considering their pedigree and array of stars, but Nigeria’s Manager, coach Gernot Rohr assures that the Super Eagles will do well against Argentina this time around, and progress to the knock out stage.
“No group is easy. A group that has Argentina, Croatia and Iceland cannot be a pushover. We have a good chance of qualifying from the group just as the other teams in the group. The minimum target is to have a good performance and have a good attitude,” Rohr said.
Meanwhile, Nigeria Football Federation President, Amaju Pinnick, said he was targeting the semi-finals, but Rohr has a different focus.
“It would be wonderful if we could get out of the group and then from there, we are outsiders, but we are ambitious also. We would like to do very well, win some points and qualify for the last 16. We already made a good surprise in our qualifiers and now, we would like to do another surprise,” he said.
Nigeria will start her campaign against Croatia, followed by Iceland, while the country’s last game will be against Argentina.
Before, now, Nigeria had played in five World Cups and it was only once – France 1998 – that the Eagles were not grouped with the South American giants, Argentina.
The two countries first met in 1994 World Cup, met again at the group stage three other times in 2002, 2010, 2014, and Nigeria is yet to record a win against Argentina at that level.
Reacting to the draw, former Super Eagles coach Agustine Eguavoen warned that the group was very tricky, adding that with the right attitude and approach, Nigeria would qualify from the group.
“Argentina will not be easy having beaten them less than two months ago in a friendly match and with Lionel Messi, Macherano and few other players playing their last World Cup for Argentina, the Super Eagles will not find it easy. However, Nigeria still have a good chance of qualifying,” Eguavoen said.
Super Eagles striker, Odion Ighalo, charged his colleagues not to underrate Iceland, which many felt would be the ‘weeping baby’ in the group.
“Those who believe Iceland will be a pushover will be disappointed. No team in modern football is a pushover,” Ighalo warned.
Indeed, ex-Nigerian international Victor Ikpeba is of the opinion that Super Eagles’ average age of 24.9, the youngest team in Russia, would be an advantage as they could outpace their older opponents.
“The age of the team would be an advantage. Even after the World Cup we still have players that would campaign favourable for the 2022 World Cup,” Ikpeba said.
Eagles will open their World Cup title battle against Croatia in Kaliningrad on June 16, and then confront Iceland before facing bitter rivals, Argentina in Saint Petersburg. Argentina will engage newcomers; Iceland in the group’s opening game.
Africa’s other representatives, Egypt are in Group A together with the hosts, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay, while Senegal are in Group H with Poland, Colombia and Japan while Morocco are in Group B with Portugal, Spain and Iran and Tunisia in Group G with Belgium, England and newcomers, Panama.
The opening game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup is between hosts, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
The 2018 Fifa World Cup will run from June 14 – July 15 in 11 host cities – Moscow, Ekaterinburg, Saransk, Rostov-On-Don, Kazan, Kaliningrad, Sochi, Samara, Saint Petersburg, Volgograd and Nizhny Novgorod.