Group D has proven the pundits’ right – it will be close till the very end. With goals difference being the first icebreaker, Croatia are just assured of a second round place, not first place in this group at the moment.
Nigeria, Iceland, and Argentina can still make it through in second place, and in Nigeria’s case, they can usurp Croatia, who currently sit pretty in first place.
The permutation experts have a fertile board on which to make all their projections but the Super Eagles have destiny in their own hands.
The 2-0 win over Iceland must have taught Gernot Rohr and his players some lessons they will need against Argentina next Tuesday.
1. Rohr must get his lineup right from the off
While there was 45 minutes to change the setup to get a positive result against Iceland – that luxury might not present itself against a desperate Argentina next Tuesday.
Gernot Rohr has the benefit of two complete training days, his decisions on players and formation must be right with the selection of players sent unto the Saint Petersburg Stadium.
In his post-match interview after the 2-0 win over Iceland, Rohr said, “In the first half, we didn’t play well. We changed one player but the most important was to change the attitude of my players to be more dynamic and aggressive, in the good sense of the word.”
As they say in the NBA Playoffs, “It is win or go home”.
2. The team must do more running
The kilometres logged by the Eagles actually decreased by a kilometre from the match against Croatia. Stats on the Fifa website show that in their first two matches, the Super Eagles were out-run.
Against Croatia, with their world-class set of midfielders – the Vatreni covered more ground; 104-101; and against the Strakarnir Okkar of Iceland, it was 106-100.
The number did not depend on ball possession because the Nigerians had less of the ball but against Iceland they had more of the ball and ran less. The Argentines will be helter-skelter – the Eagles must match them step for step.
3. They must score the first goal
In as much as a draw will may take them into the second round, a win guarantees the ticket.
In Russia 2018, only one team has been able to completely overturn conceding the first goal, and that was Switzerland against Serbia on Friday. The first 25 matches in Russia have seen the first team to score take all three points or a draw at least.
4. They have to start with a fast tempo
Argentina must win to stand a chance, which means they will attack.
If Jorge Sampaoli is still in the dugout for Tuesday’s game, then the Eagles can be sure of facing a barrage from the first whistle. But just as they showed against Iceland in the second half, a team is most vulnerable when it has committed men into attack.
The transition must be quick and precise to hurt the Argentines, who are clearly low on morale.
5. Ebuehi has done enough to start
Maybe his relative youth and inexperience, especially in the national team, may have counted against him to this point, but Tyronne Ebuehi showed with that second half performance against Iceland that he is ready to start for the team.
Abdullahi Shehu and Bryan Idowu might be more streetwise but the new Benfica recruit has more guile, speed and ball sense. His judgment in the box definitely needs to improve but that would come with more matches under his belt.