FIFA World Cup – Nigeria: The Super Eagles’ swagger on and off the pitch

Nigeria World Cup 2018 friendly

By Jaimer Dela Cruz

They might have captured the world through their stylish 2018 FIFA World Cup kits that sold like pancakes immediately after its release and their traveling clothes, but Nigeria is a team you can’t simply count out of this tournament.

The 48th ranked Super Eagles have made a mark in the grandest stage as they’ve qualified for a total of five times in the FIFA World Cup, immediately reaching the Round of 16 on their first two appearances in the tournament back in 1994 and 1998 respectively.

Their 2014 participation ended up the same way as their previous best achievements in the tournament which they exited the tournament at the hands of France in the round of 16. Surprisingly, Les Bleus only managed to score two goals over them despite the firepower that they have in their lineup.

Qualifying for 2018’s biggest international footballing spectacle in Russia seemed to be an easy path for the Super Eagles as they managed to top their table with 13 points winning four games out of six. They only lost once and drew level with Cameroon in the qualifiers.

They started their qualifying campaign on a three-game winning streak as they defeated Zambia two goals to one, Algeria three goals to one and demolishing Cameroon after rampaging them with four goals that went unanswered. They were handed their first blemish on their record by Cameroon on their return leg as The Indomitable Lions levelled them at home through the scoreline of 1-1.

They went on to win their fifth game in the qualifiers over Zambia where they scored a goal over the opposition. They almost finished the qualifiers on a perfect note as they drew 1-1 with Algeria but after investigations, FIFA handed the Algerians the 3-0 win as a result of forfeiture for the Super Eagles as they fielded an ineligible player during their encounter.

Hurdling through the Group Stages

Coming as underdogs in this tournament, it seems like destiny wants them to go through another rough road towards the knockout stages as they’re drawn with 2014 Runners-up Argentina for the fifth time.

In all of the past four meetings they have, La Albiceleste always came out on top as they’ve defeated the Super Eagles two goals to one in 1994, 1-nil in 2002, 1-nil in 2010 and a tight 3-2 win in 2014. Still, this didn’t dampen the hopes of their nation as they believe the only obstacle they have to go through is Argentina themselves.

Although they’re grouped with the 20th rank Croatia which boasts a tight midfield squad with Luka Modric leading the way, and debutants Iceland who are known for their grit and sheer dedication, they’re looking to soar above adversities to progress to the knockout stages and this time, even move beyond the round of 16.

The Swag Factor

Nigeria boasts a 23-man squad that shows a mix of talent and experience as they will be led by John Obi Mikel who’s currently strutting his stuff with Chinese club Tianjin TEDA scoring two goals in 19 appearances since his arrival in China last year.

Backing up Mikel in midfield will be the 22-year old Alex Iwobi who features for Arsenal. Since his signing back in 2015 for the Gunners, Iwobi has won the FA Community Shield in 2015 and 2017 as well as being part of last year’s squad who won the FA Cup over their rivals Chelsea. He’s been named CAF’s young player of the year in 2016 and has been a part of CAF Team of the Year as well.

Gunning upfront for the Super Eagles will be Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa. With reports that Musa might start ahead of Moses in their first game against Iceland, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal for Nigeria as both forwards are on fire in their respective leagues.

In his current outing with Chelsea, Moses has scored three goals and provided four assist in his 24 appearances in the league. As for his performance with the Super Eagles, Moses have already scored 11 goals in 32 appearances. On the other hand, his counterpart Musa has been on fire since his loan move to CSKA Moscow. In his first 10 appearances, he has scored six already and provided three assists in the league. Should Musa start ahead of Moses, no doubt he will be in familiar grounds as he’s been tearing the league apart since his arrival in the club.

Given the firepower that they have in that lineup, the Super Eagles are bound for another appearance in the Round of 16. All they have to do now is to use that to their advantage and hurdle past the ambitions of Iceland and the midfield dominance of Croatia. Will we see the Super Eagles soar to upset the giants or will we see an early exit from them this year? Give us your thoughts about this!