COMMENT By Seye Omidiora Follow on Twitter
What a difference a week makes!
Only seven days ago, Nigeria were licking their wounds following what was considered a meek surrender against Croatia.
The manner of that 2-0 defeat raised several doubts about a side that hadn’t picked up a win in four successive games prior to the World Cup, and had seemingly carried their awful pre-tournament form into the showpiece.Many even, albeit jokingly, slated Mystic Marcus – the psychic pig who supposedly had an unblemished record in about four years of predicting sports results – for giving false hope to an entire nation by foretelling a semi-final slot for the West Africans and in turn see the side make history.
On the back of that awful performance, though, many fans were resigned to a group-stage exit from the completion that had promised so much following a good qualifying run.
Oga ooo...All of us just carry hope to this World Cup for Nothing....FOR NOTHING!!!...God will just help us to punish that Pig ni sha!! #worldcup#Nigeria #football#supereagles pic.twitter.com/8S6Ez4jJKu— Mc LIVELY (@mc_lively_) June 17, 2018
Super Eagles are now Tasked with Winning Iceland and Argentina and that's a Tall Order. Again, Where is that pig?— DANIEL WHYTE (@danielwhyte2) June 16, 2018
However, Rohr’s charges were to receive a lifeline following Croatia’s humiliation of Argentina.
If the mood in the Eagles’ camp was subdued after the aforementioned defeat, surely the players would have felt exhilarated seeing the Albiceleste fall to a shocking 3-0 defeat. That result will definitely have spiked the confidence of the African side as they knew a win over Our Boys would have put them firmly in control of their destiny.
Gernot Rohr rang the changes for the encounter against the North European side and two of those replacements made the difference.
First, the introduction of Kenneth Omeruo on the left-side of the three-man backline at the expense of John Ogu, who had prominently featured in that role in preparatory friendlies, proved decisive as the perennial Chelsea loanee had a commanding game in central defence.
And then there was Ahmed Musa...
The decision to bring the Leicester City man into the fold at Alex Iwobi’s detriment wasn't universally popular among Nigeria fans.
How could Rohr, who finally elected to switch to a 3-5-2, then opt to leave out his most creative player? Heads were definitely in hands as fans presumably struggled to come to terms with the manager’s selection.
The opening half, though, was an eyesore, and those dissenting voices were probably getting louder after the horror show in which Nigeria failed to register a single attempt at goal.
However, the three-time African champions came out with fire in their bellies after the restart, and Musa was the protagonist in the amazing victory.
The rapid forward came into the tournament in Russia as the most in-form of the Nigeria attackers with five goals in five games, as opposed to the untested Simy Nwankwo who had four in five, Odion Ighalo who had been on a goal drought with Changchun Yatai and had previously scored just once under Rohr, Iheanacho with two in five, and Iwobi with one in five.
He emphatically justified the German tactician’s decision to play him with that double which consequently saw him move to four World Cup goals for the African nation, leapfrogging Kalu Uche, Emmanuel Amunike and Daniel Amokachi who all had two.
Musa and his Eagles teammates would be relishing the chance of inflicting further damage on a wounded Argentina side in the final group game, and why not?
The South Americans’ dressing room is said to be in chaos with Jorge Sampaoli rumoured to have been overthrown by his players. If those reports are to be believed, it would be ridiculous to have a manager on the touchline who’s got absolutely no right to command his charges.
The Nigerians won’t care about Sampaoli’s malaise, but the antecedent will definitely worry them.
In five previous World Cup campaigns, the West Africans have never recorded a victory over sides outside Europe, with all five wins coming against Bulgaria (twice), Greece, Spain and Bosnia & Herzegovina. Even the most-recent victory was against Iceland, another European nation.
Even more worrying is the fact that Argentina come out on top whenever the pair have locked horns at the grand showpiece.
Both sides have faced off in four of Nigeria’s five appearances at the competition, with the South Americans winning every time, albeit by slender margins (2-1 in 1994, 1-0 in 2002, 1-0 in 2010 and 3-2 in 2014). They also fell to a 3-1 defeat against Paraguay in 1998 – the only other South American side they’ve ever faced – although they had secured passage into the Round of 16, and little can be written into that.
The Iceland result – courtesy of Musa – may have brought Nigeria back into contention, but they’ll need to rewrite history if they want to avoid a disappointing exit from the tournament that promised so much… and they might send Mystic Marcus a ‘thank you’ note, or, fittingly, an apple if they secure passage into the next round.