For the fifth time in six World Cup appearances, Nigeria have been drawn against Argentina in the group stage. The Super Eagles have lost all four previous World Cup meetings with La Albiceleste — in 1994, 2002, 2010, 2014 — albeit by slim scorelines. Although they showed great character in coming from behind to beat the Argentines 4-2 in a recent friendly match, it will require a tremendous performance to repeat the feat at the World Cup.
Familiar foes aside, they will face new opposition in Croatia and Iceland, with their opening game being a first meeting against the Croats. Argentina, despite their qualifying struggles, will be odds-on favourites to qualify, leaving the second spot open for competition among the other three teams. Neither opponent represent easy foe, and both will test Gernot Rohr’s Eagles.
Iceland qualified by topping a European qualifying group that included Croatia, Turkey, Ukraine and Finland, winning seven of their 10 games and losing just two. Croatia, who finished second, qualified via the playoffs after six wins, two draws and two losses.However, it was in the playoffs that they came good, hammering Greece 4-1 before drawing 0-0 in the second leg. whilee this is not the best possible group the Super Eagles could have fallen into, it is certainly not the worst.
So how do they negotiate their way to the next round?
It starts with their opening game against Croatia. A win in that game gives the Super Eagles one leg up on qualification, but a draw would not be the worst result, as long as they claim a win against Iceland in the second game. It’s worth noting that the Super Eagles do have a good record against European teams at the World Cup, having won five, drawn one and lost two of their previous eight games against teams from the continent. They beat Bulgaria in 1994, Spain in 1998, and Bosnia in 2014, drawing with England 2002, and will be aiming for at least four points heading into their final fixture against Argentina. Assuming La Albiceleste win their opening two games against both Iceland and Croatia, they would have qualified and could well afford to rest their big guns ahead of the final group game against Nigeria.A draw there would see the Super Eagles advance, providing Nigeria haven’t slipped up before then. “What we have to do is to prepare well especially for our first game against Croatia with good friendlies, maybe against Serbia because its not easy to play this team,” Gernot Rohr told the NFF. “Argentina we know.
“They are a very good team. It will be more difficult than in the friendly. We cannot surprise them like we did the last time, and now they will play with (Lionel) Messi,” he added. “Iceland are very strong physically, have the best fans in Europe. It will be a very interesting group.”