The World Cup draws have put the Eagles in Group D alongside Argentina, Iceland, and Croatia, with the Eagles playing against Croatia, Iceland and Argentina in that order. As it is with every above-average team going to the World Cup, the draw is fair, but don’t let the names fool you; while it is not a Group of Death, it is a Dangerous Group.
First, Argentina have seen the Eagles, and they are a different team with Lionel Messi on the pitch. This is the most common knowledge in world football; the two teams that have the little Argentine, play different when he is on the pitch, from when he is off it. Many people have pointed out that Victor Moses also, wasn’t on the pitch in that game at Krasnodar, but don’t let’s fool ourselves; it’s not the same proposition. Argentina minus Messi is not the same as Nigeria without Moses: the Argentina of the friendly will not be the same as the Argentina of the World Cup.
Iceland deserve our respect, they didn’t come this far by folding when things get tough. And they have proved it twice – the first with their run at the European Championships, and then with their qualification for the World Cup from a seemingly difficult European group. Iceland just missed being in Brazil after losing the playoffs to Croatia. Then they qualified for the European Championships and qualified for the Quarter Finals, before finishing top of their Group ahead of Croatia, to earn a place at the Mundial. Iceland may have less than the population of a Lagos suburb; but they didn’t land at the World Cup by accident, it’s the culmination of a long-term plan and will be ready to play.
Croatia are not as dangerous as they were in 1998, but they are still a force to reckon with. If nothing inspires respect from the Croats, at least think of their midfield: Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic, Ivan Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic. That quartet have bags of experience between them, and will be ready for the battle. They may have finished behind Iceland, but the way they easily dispatched Greece in the playoffs should suggest that this team will turn it on when they need to.
Finally, the Eagles must not defeat themselves. This has been the case in some of the World Cups Nigeria have qualified for: the revolt of US ’94, the overconfidence of France ’98, the chaos of Korea/Japan 2002, the agitation of Brazil 2014, the list goes on and on. The NFF have laid the foundations for a good tournament by settling bonuses, and extending the contract of the coach and the players seem ready to co-operate. That peace must be kept, no matter the cost. Then it’s up to the boys to go to Russia, and do their best.
Sometimes you need luck to make progress in this tournament: Brazil were the best team at Spain ’82, yet were beaten by an inspired Italy that didn’t win a single group game; Bulgaria were pulverized by Eagles at the group stages in ’94, yet played all the way to semi-finals. Sometimes it’s all about luck. Let’s pray the Eagles have plenty of that.