The Nigeria national team have a great chance of escaping their group at the 2014 World Cup
By Babajide Alaka | Deputy Editor
Despite all the handbags that were thrown before the draw for the 2014 World Cup on Friday in Bahia, the groups are done and dusted and all the teams now know at least their first three opponents in Brazil.
Nigeria was drawn in Group F with Argentina (again), Iran and first timers, Bosnia & Herzegovina. The Super Eagles will fancy their chances against this trio in Group H. The Eagles will play their opening match against Iran on June 16 in Curitiba. Their second will be against Bosnia in Cuiaba on June 21 and their last group match against Argentina is on June 25 in Salvador.
The Super Eagles have never played Iran and Bosnia but will enjoy a rematch with the South American heavyweights, Argentina.
Looking at the history of Argentina and Nigeria will take one to the Super Eagles' first-ever expedition to the World Cup in the USA in 1994 with arguably the best national squad that the country has ever had.
At that World Cup, the Super Eagles started their campaign against Bulgaria before playing Argentina, and ended with a 2-0 win over Greece, which saw the Eagles win their group.
At the last World Cup in South Africa in 2010, the Eagles were again grouped with Argentina and lost their opening game to the Lionel Messi-led side 1-0 and never really recovered.
We also have history at the U-23 level. Nigeria won Olympic gold in 1996 by beating Argentina in the final. The Argentines got their revenge in Beijing 12 years after with a 1-0 victory. There is also the history of friendly matches that have produced a victory apiece. So the two countries are not strangers and they won’t be any surprises in Salvador on June 25.
But we will leave Argentina for a while since it will be the Eagles' last match, and if they do their job against Iran and Bosnia, we could be looking at an inconsequential match against the Bincocelesti.
The three coaches of the Super Eagles played at the World Cup and understand what it takes to at least make it into the second round – it is not merely about the starting XI, but the 23 that make up the squad.
The Eagles, as presently constituted, must take the Iranians very seriously as a good win will bolster confidence and make the second match. So what style does Iran play and who is their star player?
One thing is sure; there will be lots of fighting spirit in this Iranian team coached by former Manchester United and Real Madrid coach, Carlos Queiroz and they topped the two groups in which they played and led South Korea in Group A of their qualifiers.
Fulham player, Ashkan Dejagah, is their star player and his game is more about hard running and a knack of scoring crucial goals. Their captain, Javad Nekounam, with 37 international goals will run the midfield with a lot of experience having played in Europe with Osasuna from 2006 to 2012.
Bosnia are Europeans so they will be well-prepared, though the weather of Cuiaba could prove advantageous to the Nigerians as the match will be played at 6pm, local time when it will be very humid. They boast of very good players like Edin Dzeko, Vedad Ibišević, Roma’s midfield orchestrator, Miralem Pjanić, as well as a very reliable goalkeeper in Asmir Begovic.
The Super Eagles will have to be at their best in terms of concentration to beat these World Cup first-timers.
The last match may mean much or not a lot depending on the first two and competitive matches between Nigeria and Argentina have always been tight.
In 1994, it was 2-1 to Argentina, in 2010, it was 1-0. At the Olympics in 1996, it was Nigeria getting the better with a 3-2 score line, while at the 2008 Beijing Olympics; Argentina got their revenge with a 1-0 win the final match. Not forgetting, the match will also see Mikel Obi finally clash again with Lionel Messi on the national level following their joust at the 2005 U-21 Fifa World Cup. Here, the latter’s two penalty goals in the final deprived Nigeria of the trophy and, most probably, Mikel of the Most Valuable Player of the tournament award.