Emmanuel Okara (NAN)
Ahead of the crucial Group D final round of matches at the ongoing World Cup in Russia, the Super Eagles face an uphill task, against a hell-bent La Albiceleste of Argentina that hope to reach the round of 16.
While the former two-time World Champions would want to use the pivotal match to revive their faltering campaign in Russia, the Super Eagles also sees the match as a must-win; to prolong Nigeria’s stay in Russia.
This is where we expect superior team tactics, maximum fitness level of players and a high sense of commitment on the part of the Super Eagles, in the must win match against Nigeria’s perennial rival at the World Cup.
For the Super Eagles to land safely in the knockout stages, certain permutations must be taken into consideration to make Nigeria understand the enormity of the task at hand.
Croatia lead with six points in Group D, Nigeria are second with three points, Iceland are third with one point and Argentina are at the bottom with one point.
Croatia have qualified and will be group winners with a point against Iceland.
Nigeria will qualify with a win over Argentina. A point will be enough if Iceland do not beat Croatia.
If Argentina and Nigeria draw, Iceland will make the last 16 if they beat Croatia by a two-goal margin, and also score at least one more than Nigeria.
Argentina will qualify with victory over Nigeria coupled with Iceland failing to defeat Croatia.
If Iceland beat Croatia, then Jorge Sampaoli’s side can still qualify if they beat Nigeria by two more goals than Iceland win their game.
If Argentina and Iceland win and finish with identical records their fate will be decided by their disciplinary records and then the drawing of lots. Argentina have picked up three yellow cards and Iceland have none.
It is against this seemingly impossible backdrop, that we expect Coach Gernot Rohr to field a durable squad that would tackle the Lionel Messi-Captained La Albiceleste toe-to-toe for the maximum three points at stake.
We expect to see the same line-up Nigeria used against the Strakkamir Okkar of Iceland to play against Argentina, and the three man defence line of Kenneth Omeruo, Leon Balogun and Troost Ekong should continue from where they stopped against Iceland.
While the midfield of Mikel, Wilfred Ndidi, Oghenekaro Etebo, and the wingbacks combination of Brian Idowu/Tyronne Ebuehi and Victor Moses; form a compact unit that should be able to contain the expected onslaught from Messi, Paulo Dyabala, Angel de Maria…
According to Godwin Dudu-Orumen, renowned Executive Producer of “The Best of Football’’ an award winning TV programme; the Super Eagles must be on their toes all through the match and guard against blunders.
“Super Eagles must play in the front. They have to avoid giving away free kicks in our half and vital areas that Argentina could use to hurt us.
“Eagles must create chances and take them, all half chances must be converted.
“They must be strong in going forward. No goal scoring opportunity should go unutilised.
Dudu-Orumen told NAN that Moses should be made to play the way he played against Iceland from the wing back, and urged Rohr to impress on whoever he chooses to be the arrowhead of the attack to be clinical.
“Must be more daring, more positive and must cut into the 18 yard box as did Ahmed Musa against Iceland and to constantly put the Argentine defence under pressure.
“Whoever is selected for the striking role must be mobile and constantly on the move to shake off Nicola Otamendi who can be rough if not dirty, Javier Mascherano is another very dirty player.
“The Eagles must have less physical contact with Gonzalo Higuain who are very dangerous but can be checked with alert marking,’’ he said.
According to the entrepreneur all the players of the Super Eagles must play for the team and by so doing victory will likely come Nigeria’s way.
In the same vein, Adefeko Mohammed, Vice-President Corporate and Government Relations, Olam Nigeria, who is also a keen football enthusiast, told NAN on telephone that the showdown against Argentina was a winnable match.
“I think we should stick to our formation from the last match and the players must be tactically disciplined in their approach to the match.
“We should play to our strength and impose ourselves on La Albiceleste in order to disorganise their game plan.
“If Mikel is not fit for the match, he should be replaced by John Ogu at the back; if Mikel is playing then he should play from the holding midfield role.
“Where we cannot win the match then we should strive to avoid defeat,’’he said.
The onus is now on the Super Eagles to take the bull by the horn through a creditable display that would deny the Argentine team a berth in the last 16; which they regard as their birthright.
The Super Eagles met Argentina for the first time in its maiden appearance at the USA `94 World Cup, where the Diego Maradona captained the squad that defeated Nigeria 2-1.
Nigeria has since that encounter met Argentina at the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup in which Nigeria lost 1-0, lost to Argentina again at the South Africa 2010 1-0 and lost 3-2 to Argentina at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The only time Nigeria and Argentina avoided each other was at the France `98 World Cup.