United Bank Africa

Eagles Aim To Avoid Going Home Early

during the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup match between Nigeria v Iceland on the 22nd June 2018 at Volgograd Arena ,Russia

Nigeria will give it her best shot when they tackle Argentina in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday to guarantee a fourth Round of 16 berth at the FIFA World Cup finals.

Long before the contingent arrived in Saint Petersburg on Sunday evening, technical chiefs concerned themselves principally on what would be the best formation to establish an impregnable defence, a resilient and coherent midfield and a lethal front section that would make hay from half chances.

There is belief that first choice goalkeeper Francis Uzoho is growing in confidence and would do his utmost, but the outfield is where Coach Gernot Rohr and assistants are presented with interesting choices. They are keeping playing personnel and formation close to their chests.

The 67,000-capacity Zenit Arena is located on a piece of land reclaimed from the sea, in the Krestovsky Ostrov (Krestovsky Island) district of Saint Petersburg. Behind the magnificent facility is a vast stretch of water that leads to the Gulf of Finland.

But it is doubtful whether the gulf in World Cup pedigree and accomplishments between the two teams (Argentina had won two FIFA World Cup titles and finished as runners-up on two occasions before Nigeria made her debut at the finals in 1994) would amount to much when Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir’s whistle goes for kick-off on Tuesday night.

Argentina are in desperate situation following a score-draw in their first game against Iceland and comprehensive defeat by Croatia, and will throw everything at their disposal at the Super Eagles.
But the African flag-bearers are not a team to be easily brow-beaten, and have adopted an ‘Argentina Must Fall’ motto since flaying Iceland in Volgograd.

The 0-3 reverse to Croatia in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday was the heaviest World Cup group stage defeat suffered by Argentina since they were annihilated 6-1 by then Czechoslovakia in Helsinborg (Sweden) 60 years ago.

Poor form and intense media hype about collapse of order in their camp notwithstanding, the two –time world champions are known to rise to the big occasion and Tuesday’s encounter is poised as the biggest occasion for their array of superstars in recent years.

The likes of Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano could be making their last FIFA World Cup appearance, and Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Paulo Dybala will kick themselves several times if the Albiceleste, reigning vice champions, are kicked out of the World Cup at group stage.

For Nigeria, Captain Mikel Obi is also perhaps playing in his last World Cup. Like Messi, he would have been playing in his fourth World Cup, but he missed Germany 2006 by the whiskers (Nigeria thwarted by head-to-head voodoo) and South Africa 2010 as a result of injury.

In 2005, Messi won gold and Mikel silver at the FIFA U20 World Cup in The Netherlands, and while Messi was named Player of the Tournament, Mikel was named second best.
Three years later, when Messi led Argentina to defeat Nigeria by the odd goal in the Men’s Olympics Final in Beijing, Mikel was absent. Both men were involved when Argentina edged Nigeria 3-2 in Porto Alegre at the last World Cup.

These are some of the reasons why both team leaders will give their very all on Tuesday, with high –level determination, tactical awareness, technical hue and energy sure to be in abundant display.

Amazing atmosphere guaranteed…

Never in the history of Saint Petersburg has it seen such an unending influx of Nigerians and Argentines. Large contingents of nationals of both countries have continued to pour into the city through the Pulkovo Airport and by other entry points.

A fresh influx of Nigerians who have made their own private arrangements to watch the FIFA World Cup (particularly the Nigeria/Argentina match) started arriving in Saint Petersburg on Thursday last week.

Hotels in the city are bursting at the seams as football –loving Nigerians and Argentines from different parts of the world, as well as Nigerians and Argentines resident in Russia, have swooped on Russia’s second city.

Senate President Bukola Saraki will lead the cheers for the Super Eagles, alongside Ambassador Steve Davies Ugbah, Youth and Sports Minister Solomon Dalung (who returned to Saint Petersburg on Monday), Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Mr. Olusade Adesola, as well as other members of the Nigeria Government delegation.

Members of the National Assembly (Senators and House Members), NFF Executive Committee Members, Members of the NFF Congress and former NFF Presidents and General Secretaries will also be at the match venue.

Former Nigeria coach Adegboye Onigbinde, directors in the Youth and Sports Ministry, Alhaji Abba Yola, Mr. Mainasara Illo, delegations from different States and other stakeholders including NPFL club owners are among those who will also cheer the Super Eagles live.

France, Denmark loom large…

France and Denmark, two countries that have met Nigeria in the FIFA World Cup Round of 16 over the past 20 years, are again the prospects for the Round of 16 in Russia, once the Super Eagles get the challenge of Argentina behind them on Tuesday.
The only other country to have played Nigeria in the FIFA World Cup Round of 16, Italy (USA 1994) did not make it to the finals in Russia.

Denmark hit the Eagles 4-1 at the Stade de France in Paris in 1998, with the Nigerians failing to fully focus on the match but on a probable quarter –final match-up with Brazil, two years after the Nigeria U23 edged Brazil in the Olympics semi final in USA.

Four years ago, France were 2-0 winners at the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha in Brasilia, kicking the Eagles out of Brazil 2014.

France and Denmark have dominated Group C here in Russia, each with six points and similar two-goal credit, and with their clash in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium also on Tuesday to determine the group winner. Peru and Australia have already been eliminated in that section.

The winner of Group C will take on the runner-up of Group D (Nigeria’s section) in the Round of 16 in Kazan on Saturday 30th June, while the winner of Group D will play the runner-up of Group C in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday 1st July.