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Croatia v Nigeria

Mikel hopes 'youthful' Nigeria edge Croatia in World Cup opener

21:56 GMT+3 15/06/2018
Mikel Obi
The Super Eagles skipper said both sides' brand of football is similar, but hopes their youthfulness stands them out after the final whistle

The youthful setup Nigeria have could be the deciding factor in their World Cup opener against a similar Croatia side, says John Obi Mikel.

The Super Eagles face Zlatko Dalic's side at the Kaliningrad Stadium in their first Group D encounter on Saturday.

And the team skipper, while regarding both sides as ball-playing teams, hopes their youthfulness propels them past their European opponents.

"I don't want to talk about Croatian national team, it's better for us to focus on our own national team right now," Mikel said the pre-match conference.

"It's a great team, great players, but for us tomorrow it's XI vs XI. They like the ball, they like to play, we like the same. It'll be a very interesting game. We have a younger team, maybe that could help us tomorrow, who knows?"

With the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovačić and Co., Croatia boast of more world-class midfielders, but Mikel is rather unfazed, highlighting the Super Eagles' strengths at the centre of the park.

"The midfield is important in every game, we know with the power, the energy we have in midfield, we can control the midfield. It depends who has more of the ball, but we'll try to control the ball.

Gernot Rohr's side are the youngest side at the global fiesta, with an average age of 25.9, and while admitting that such comes with its pros and cons, Mikel, 31, hopes they ride on the positives.

"I don't think it's a problem for us. It might be, you never know. In football, in this tournament, you take things as they come, one game at a time," he continued.

"Sometimes experience counts, sometimes youthfulness counts. It won't be a problem. We've been playing like this for a year and a half and play with the players we've been playing with.

"Hopefully, we can achieve a lot of things in this tournament with this very young team."