Three Hopes, One Fear: Nigeria at the 2018 World Cup

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The Super Eagles are soaring into the 2018 World Cup! For the fifth time out of the past six tournaments Nigeria will be playing on the world’s biggest stage at the World Cup in Russia. But after failing to get beyond the Round of 16 their supporters are hoping for more, that a trip up north will lead to greater fortunes. But can they do it? Let’s read on and find out!

Hope #1: That John Obi Mikel’s reverse club form will continue.

There are two John Obi Mikels: the guy who features for his club and the guy who features for his country. The John Obi Mikel who plays for his club has had a rather remarkable, unremarkable career. Aside from drawing the ire of Jose Mourinho on more than a few occasions his 249 (!) appearances with Chelsea really were just…fine. Not outstanding, but not terrible either. He was just kind of there.

While Obi Mikel might have been Major Major for Chelsea with Nigeria he is certainly Yossarian. Although he only has six goals with The Super Eagles he has been the central figure for the side for over the past twelve years. When you consider all of the highs (2013 Africa Cup of Nations title, Round of 16 appearance at the 2014 World Cup) and the lows (Not making the 2015 or 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, the death of coach Stephen Keshi) he has been the rock. All of the stops and starts to building and rebuilding Nigeria’s football program and there has been one mainstay: Obi Mikel.

Going into Russia his experience and ability to maintain his composure in tough will come in handy with a very young and untested Nigerian side. Head coach Gernot Rohr will rely on him and Victor Moses to keep their organization against the likes of Argentina and Croatia.

Hope #2: That they can get the losing bug out of their system.

Nigeria enter the tournament in not the finest form. They have lost four of their last five matches (0-4-1, 1 point) with a draw against the Democratic Republic of the Congo being their only positive result. Those losses have come against some pretty difficult sides (England, Czech Republic, Serbia, and bizarrely enough Atletico Madrid) so that should be taken into consideration. But not getting three points in any of these matches will certainly worry their ardent supporters. Their hope is that the old belief in sports that when a team loses a lot of games in the lead up to a big tournament that they are getting losing out of their system in the lead-up to a big run.

Hope #3: That their forwards will score with impunity.

Nigeria has a history of finding and developing very talented attacking players (Those reading this from the Seattle region will remember the name Obafemi Martins very well). This year is no different with Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai, formerly of Watford)  and Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow) all being called up. Coaches love to have difficult decisions like the one that Rohr will have next week when it comes to filling out a lineup card.

Of the four, Nigerian supports will hang their hopes the highest on Iheanacho. The 21-year old Manchester City product made the most out of his limited minutes with The Foxes last season, scoring eight goals across all competitions. He is lightning quick and has a clever little left-footed touch that he likes to use against defenders. Although he hasn’t scored a goal for Nigeria since November that goal was important because it was against Argentina and it was in Russia.

The big fear: That they will focus too much on Argentina and too little on Croatia and Iceland. 

Argentina and Nigeria have developed a nice little rivalry over the years that seems to stem back to The Super Eagles shock victory over La Albiceleste in the 1996 Olympics Gold Medal game. Their matches are always entertaining and always seem to get both sides supporters up and excited.

But Nigerian supporters should be a bit worried for this encounter as it is their third match in the World Cup. Between then and now Nigeria have two very difficult matches with Croatia and Iceland and if they overlook them, it could prove costly. Particularly Iceland who showed at the 2016 European Championships that they are not just a side that will put ten players behind the ball. Croatia also have a history of looking beatable for 80 minutes and then putting on 10 minutes of incredible football and squeaking out a result.

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