It is exactly 60 days to the Super Eagles first match at Russia 2018, a clash against an exciting Croatia team,loaded with experience and quality from back to front.
FIFA, on its World Cup page wrote concerning Nigeria’s Group D, “Group D looks likely to be one of the most fiercely-contested groups at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
“It pits historic giants Argentina against two blossoming European sides in Croatia and Iceland, plus the ever-unpredictable Nigeria, who are sure to be a tough nut to crack.”
Argentina have Lionel Messi; Croatia have Luca Modric; Iceland have Gylfi Sigurdsson while Nigeria have Mikel Obi. Added to this description would be that the Super Eagles are the youngest side in Group D, with a lot of young players itching to leave their mark on the world stage.
For Lionel Messi and Argentina, the 2018 World Cup has assumed a last chance outlook. Messi, the talisman will clock 31 at the tournament and looks to be slowing down in bits. Same thing goes for Croatia, whose leading lights – Modric and Ivan Rakitic are 32 and 30 respectively. For Iceland, the average age is 28.3.
If the progress determinant in Russia is by age, experience and clout, then the Super Eagles need not have bothered to book hotels in Russia.
Football has shown it is not that simple. The best, the most talented teams, have often failed at the biggest stage because of a lack of unity, unflinching teamwork, and a merged goal.
A great African, the late Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, said, “History teaches us that unity is strength, and cautions us to submerge and overcome our differences in the quest for common goals…”
Croatia have a challenge concerning this at the moment because of a discord between the fans and Modric. A report on Total Croatia News in October 2017 on the state of the Croatian national team read: “There was not an ounce of passion, quality, or unity the team showed last night, and as expected, the fans in the stands booed the team off the pitch at halftime.” It was after this match [against Kosovo] that Zlatko Dalic replaced Ante Cacic.
The report went further, “With World Cup still on the horizon, would this be a team worthy of representing our nation?”
Their talisman, Modric has been on trial and faces up to five years imprisonment if he is convicted of perjury as concerning some financial deals with a former Dinamo Zagreb director, Zdravko Mamic, charged with embezzlement and tax fraud.
Croatian fans believe Modric is trying to cover up for Mamic, of whom they believe has been the silent killers of their local league, which translates to some alienation of fans to the national team.
In Argentina, Jorge Sampaoli is at war with the press who has insinuated that Sampaoli is kowtowing to Messi’s every demand, especially as it concerns the player, who would lead the attack in Russia.
Whilst many are clamouring for the inclusion of Inter Milan’s Mauro Icardi and Juventus’ Paulo Dybala, Sampaoli has persisted with Gonzalo Higuain, whom many Argentines believe cost them the 2014 World Cup final against Germany. Some dissonance as to what should be the goal in Russia, having lost in their three major finals.
Iceland decidedly have a very average team but one that is deeply united as they showcased during the last European Championship, where they got as far as the quarterfinal.
For the Eagles, a close confidant of Rohr and the team, Tunde Adelakun, told PREMIUM TIMES late last year, “The relationship between the players, the coaches and the Nigeria Football Federation is a very cordial one.
“One unit,” he emphasised.
“I do remember a time years past when there was a bit of segregation in camp – and some were deemed ‘senior players’ and others not. In today’s Super Eagles, all the players are one. They relate with each other in a very friendly fashion with no barriers.
“The respect is there, because they have been left to fathom who is who and no one oversteps a mark. It is great camaraderie,” Adelakun added.
This unity was showcased with the ease at which they qualified from a group containing Cameroon, Zambia, and Algeria, without losing any match.
So with 60 days to that opening match against Croatia at the Kaliningrad Stadium at 8.00 p.m., Rohr needs to finetune his tactics around Nigeria’s best players; but more importantly, he must ensure the players bond properly because this factor – undivided unity – could be what helps the team triumph.