By DANIEL ADELEKE (Super Eagles fan):
While the Super Eagles are the lowest ranked African team to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, the manner of their qualification speaks volume. In the final qualifying rounds, the Eagles won four games, drew two, scoring 12 goals and conceding just four. In the process, they decimated a strong group of opponents including Zambia, Algeria and Cameroun to qualify with a game to spare. Even when they got docked three points for fielding an ineligible player in their final match, the Eagles still topped the group. That was how dominant they were.
The Nigerian side led by Franco-German coach, Gernot Rohr, who was appointed following Nigeria’s horrible AFCON qualifying run, had this to say when speaking to BBC sports: “We have built a good environment for the team and I believe all the players gave everything to secure the ticket to Russia”.
Nigeria which is currently ranked 48th in the world, have been drawn in Group ‘D’ at the World Cup finals with familiar foes, Argentina who are ranked 5th in the world, and also Iceland and Croatia, who are ranked 22nd and 20th respectively.
This will be Nigeria’s sixth time at the World Cup. In spite of our talented crop of players, Nigeria has never advanced beyond the second round at the quadrennial tournament, achieving that milestone only in the 1994, 1998 and 2014 finals. And on arriving in Russia, the Eagles thrilled fans with their exotic white knee length caftan-like designer dress with a hat to match. And just as it happened in London at the sales of the jerseys, the social media went agog, with most Nigerians and Africans celebrating the three- time AFCON winners and their dress-to-kill sense. However, despite all the razzmatazz that trailed the Super Eagles jerseys and designer dresses, Gernot Rohr and his men are sure not to lose the essence of their going to Russia.
Nigerians deserve a good showing from the Eagles at the World Cup, not just as a team, but also as a great nation with talent basking from all over Europe who will be representing us at the showpiece. Going into their first game against Croatia, the Eagles have accepted their underdog tag but insist they are not going to lie down for any team to roll over. Both Rohr and the Nigerian captain Mikel have admitted to reporters before leaving for Russia that they were unfazed with the underdog tag.
Nigerians will hope that a repeat of the dismal showing at the 2010 World Cup will not reoccur under the supervision of Gernot Rohr, who has restored calm and confidence to the team. We expect that the Eagles will look to prevent an early exit from the tournament. And, considering the manner in which they qualified, we expect that they would proudly hoist the African flag in Russia.
Super Eagles will face Croatia on June 16 at the Kaliningrad Stadium in their opening game before taking on Iceland on June 22 at the Volgograd Arena, while their last group fixture is against Argentina at the Krestovsky stadium, St. Petersburg.