Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr has identified the match against Croatia as the toughest his wards will play at the Russia 2018 World Cup. Apart from Croatia, Nigeria have also been drawn against two-time champions and last edition’s finalists, Argentina, as well as European debutants, Iceland.
However, the June 16 clash with Croatia in Kaliningrad will be the most difficult because it will be Nigeria’s opener. “The first game is always the most difficult,” Rohr said.
In his reaction to the draw he said the Super Eagles will have to hit the ground running if they are to make it through to the next phase.
“It’s the first game and if we start well we can have a chance to go through. Croatia will be the most important game because they have technical quality and play very good football.
“I played with Bogdan at Hadjuk Split and I know that Croatian players are quick and technically very strong. At the moment, they are one of the best teams in Europe and beat Greece 4-1 in the play-offs so we have to be prepared and ready for them.”
For their second match, Nigeria will fly to Volgograd, where they take on Iceland at the 45,000 –capacity Volgograd Arena on Friday, June 22, 2018 and Rohr equally noted the importance of the game.
“They have a lot of fans who usually act as their number 12 player. I saw them play at the European Championship in 2016 and the supporters were very massive as they got all the way to the quarter-finals. Their fans will be there and it will be like they’re playing at home.”
For the fifth time in six FIFA World Cup appearances, Nigeria will be playing against Argentina in the group phase come next year. The Eagles have lost all four previous encounters by a single goal margin.
However, the Eagles have prevailed in a couple of friendly matches including a come-from-behind 4-2 win in Russia last month. But Rohr believes this will count for little during the World Cup proper.
“When we played and beat Argentina 4-2, they did not have Lionel Messi who’s arguably the best player in the world. So when we face them at the World Cup, they’ll be stronger with him playing.
“On the other side, we scored four goals and he’s not going to play in defence so if we can score more goals against their defence than he will lead his team to score against us, then we will be fine.
“We showed that it was possible to win against Argentina, but it will be a different ball game and we have to be strong both mentally and physically. It will also be a difficult game for them.”
Rohr also intends to fix the Eagles’ inability to fulfill their potential in previous tournaments which many have attributed to the player’s to a lack of discipline.
“I believe that African players have the talent, they have the physical and technical possibilities, but what they are missing is organisation, what they are missing is discipline,” said Rohr, who has also coached Gabon, Niger and Burkina Faso.
His Argentine counterpart Jorge Sampaoli also spoke to Argentine TV channel, TyC Sports, on Friday about his team’s chances and the prospects of facing Nigeria.
”Iceland will put up a fight like everyone. Croatia have an excellent midfield with Modric, Rakitic and Perisic. They are a very strong team.
”Nigeria are unpredictable, they are very quick in their play. We recently overcame them clearly in the first half (in the recent friendly) but they got a result later. We have to beat them.”