Nigerians are anxious to know the group in which the Super Eagles will land as the 2018 World Cup draws are made today in Russia. There are growing concerns over the pedigree of the teams that will draw the Super Eagles. Some Nigerians hope their darling team will get a “favourable” draw. Their prayer is for the Super Eagles to go beyond the group’s stage and qualify for the latter stages of the competition. Others believe that the Eagles should be ready to play against the best teams from the group stage if they hope to do well at the World Cup.
With the Eagles in Pot Four, meant for the weakest qualifiers, it is certain that the Nigerian side will meet two super teams in the group stage. The Super Eagles have beaten the likes of Spain, Bulgaria and Greece at the group stage of the previous World Cup tournaments. They also had memorable outings against Argentina, a couple of times. But the team lost to Italy in the second round in its first appearance in 1994.
In the past, the Nigerian qualified for the second round thrice – 1994, 1998 and 2016, recording spectacular results along the way – the 3-0 spanking of Bulgaria in 1994 and the 3-2 win over Spain in 1998 – top of the bill. A Nigerian side on the way to its sixth appearance at the world football showpiece needs not fear any foe. The 4-2 win over Argentina in a friendly game in Russia last month, though seven months away from the World Cup, shows that the Eagles can become world beaters in Russia if preparations are done the right way.
It is common knowledge that the World Cup is where the best nations gather to showcase their skills and know-how as they pursue the coveted prize Jules Rimet trophy. So, the Eagles must be ready for a tough time in Russia if they hope to soar above their opponents and advance beyond their second round finish. Qualifying for the tournament is a testament that the Super Eagles are one of the top 32 national teams in the world, irrespective of their ranking. So, no matter what happens at the world Cup next summer, the Eagles can revel in their achievement.
How the Eagles qualified
No one would have thought that the Eagles would be home and dry after five games, when the draws were made, pitting Nigeria against reigning Africa Nations Cup (AFCON) champions Cameroun and past winners, Algeria and Zambia. The group was labelled the proverbial ‘group of death’ with many predicting that the fight for the sole ticket would go down the wire. The prediction was right considering that the four teams have strong pedigree in African football with Zambia – the only team yet to play at the World Cup.
The Super Eagles started the campaign with a 2-1 away win over Zambia in Ndola. It was a surprise, bearing in mind that Coach Gernot Rohr, had just taken over the team and the thinking was that he would need some time to put together a solid squad that would learn as the qualifiers’ progresses.
However, the coach and his players had other ideas and they recorded two home victories over Algeria (3-1) and Cameroun (4-1) in Uyo for a 100 per cent record in the first round of the qualifiers. The indomitable Lions of Cameroun promised to avenge the defeat in Uyo, but could only force the Eagles to a one all draw in the reverse fixture.
Surprisingly, the Chipolopolo of Zambia got back to reckoning after two wins over Algeria and all of a sudden, they were three points behind the Eagles, which got many panicking when the Zambians came calling on match day five in Uyo. The fans knew it was going to be a difficult match, but were hopeful that the Eagles will win and qualify with one game left. The Eagles got the needed 1-0 win to book their passage to the World Cup amid a lethargic performance, which confined many to the edge of their seat throughout the game. The Zambian team hassled the Eagles throughout the game and even had a goal disallowed for offside before Alex Iwobi finally scored the decisive goal in the second half.
The last game against the Algerians was inconsequential, but Rohr was determined to end the qualifiers on a high, so he assembled the best players available for the away game. And the Nigerian team got the opening goal through John Ogu before the Algerians levellled up with a spot kick.
Rohr, players talk tough
The major actors Coach Rohr and his ‘boys’ are in a boisterous mood ahead of the draws later today. They are not scared of any opposition. This could be as a result of the perfect blend that has been achieved between the experienced and the new players. A mix that culminated in good results for the Eagles.
Unlike most foreign coaches who will be hoping to avoid their country of birth at a championship, Rohr has indicated his preference for Germany, his home country and France, the country he played most in his professional career.
The coach told NationSport from France en route Russia on Wednesday that he would be happy if the Eagles draw world number one, Germany, or number nine, France. The Franco-German coach said that his team is not afraid of any opposition, as he is in charge of an ambitious side that can surprise any side.
He also noted that since Nigeria is already in Pot 4, there is no escaping a strong team either from Europe or South America. Rohr, however, believes that his team is improving in every game.
“My expectation is to be in a group of strong teams and being in Pot 4, we are naturally ambitious outsiders. Personally, I would like to play against Germany or France,” he stated.
Speaking in the same vein, Eagles’ and Anderlecht striker cum winger, Henry Onyekuru boasted that Nigeria is ready to face any of the teams, regardless of their pedigree ahead of the draws. The on-loan Everton striker, who has been in top form for Anderlecht this season, said he believes the Eagles must play the best to become the best.
Onyekuru said: “We are the Super Eagles; we don’t fear any team; but seriously, if we can’t compete with the best teams in the world, then we would not have qualified for the World Cup in the first place.
“So, I am looking forward to playing against the very best teams. The World Cup is a very big event and I believe only the best teams and players will be present. Nigeria has a very good football pedigree and I believe it’s our time to take the world by storm.”
The former AS Eupen striker also stated that the idea to pay the players’ bonuses before the World Cup is a laudable one, but Nigerians should not judge the team on that as the players only have the interest of the nation at heart.
“To be honest, I don’t think money is the motivation for us because from what I see from other players, everybody seems motivated by the opportunity to represent the country and perform well. Anything else is out of our hands,” Onyekuru stated.
Sivasspor of Turkey left wing back, Elderson Echiejile, is confident that the Eagles will show class against any team at the tournament. Speaking ahead of today’s draw, the 29-year-old defender expressed confidence in his team, saying, “we are not afraid of anyone or any team.
“We just want to keep our preparation in top form, play quality friendly games and we will be ready for anyone in our group. This could be our time. Right now, we have things going well for the team. So, we are not afraid of anyone,” Echiejile added.
He said the stunning comeback win against Argentina is just sample of what the Super Eagles would do at the World Cup.
“The win is enough motivation for everyone in the team that we can actually dispose any team at the World Cup without fear or jitters.”
President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) Amaju Pinnick has also maintained that he is open to any group the Super Eagles will draw today in Moscow. The NFF President, who led a nine-man delegation to the draw, told SCORENigeria: “Any team that qualifies for the world Cup is potentially capable of winning the World Cup.
Pinnick said: “To me, we would just pray, work hard and keep our faces off the people in our group. There is no weak team among the teams that qualified. If countries like the United States (U.S), Holland, Chile, Italy did not qualify, then, we must understand that the dynamics of football has changed.”
One of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic gold medalists, Joseph Dosu, said it would be better for the Eagles to be drawn in the ‘Group of Death’ and play the tough teams in the group stage if they hope to secure a passage to the knock out stages of the global fiesta.
He said: “The Super Eagles is a team that thrives when placed in a tough group. I have also noticed that they struggle when they are in a group made up of weaker pedigree. If we are in a group which includes the likes of Germany, Portugal and so on, the Eagles would do well. With teams such as these, we tend to be at our best.”
Who’s who IN Russia 2018?
From Europe, hosts Russia and group winners Belgium, England, France, Germany, Iceland, Poland, Portugal, Serbia and Spain are joined by play-off victors Croatia, Denmark Sweden and Switzerland. Africa’s representatives are Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia. From North and Central America and the Caribbean, it is Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama. South America’s sides are Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay. And the Asian qualifiers are Australia, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.
According to the organisers of the event, the World Cup finals draw will be hosted by former England striker and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker and Russian sports journalist, Maria Komandnaya.
“As a player, I was fortunate enough to take part in the World Cup finals on two occasions,” Lineker told Fifa.com.
“It’s quite special to be involved in yet another tournament now on the stage, unveiling the results of the draw. I have been on the other side, waiting to find out my opponents, and I know how exciting this occasion is.”
Teams will be seeded based on the October 2017 FIFA world rankings. There are four pots – each containing eight teams. Russia will be joined in pot one by the seven highest-ranked teams, with the next eight in pot two, the following eight in pot three and the lowest ranked eight in pot four. No teams from the same confederation, with the exception of UEFA, will be drawn in the same group. A maximum of two European countries can be in any group.
The guests at the draw will include representatives from each of the eight nations to have won the World Cup: Laurent Blanc (France), Gordon Banks (England), Cafu (Brazil), Fabio Cannavaro (Italy), Diego Forlan (Uruguay), Diego Maradona (Argentina), Carles Puyol (Spain) and Miroslav Klose (Germany).
Whatever group the Eagles find themselves, with good preparation, they can ruffle some feathers and better their second round performance in Russia. However, for those who do not consider the Nigerian team a force to reckon with at the World Cup, the Eagles have this message for them: ‘We fear no foe’.