Nigeria learned the identities of their three World Cup Group D opponents on Friday, with Argentina, Iceland and Croatia the trio of nations that the Super Eagles need to bypass to reach the knockout stages.
The group was received warmly in Nigeria, where fans of the national side expressed confidence on social media that Gernot Rohr’s side can reach the Last 16, and that optimism is shared by Goal readers.
According to a recent poll, an eye-catching 81% of respondents have tipped Nigeria to advance from Group D and reach the knockout stages for the fourth time.
By contrast, only 19% of those who replied believe that the West African giants will fall at the first hurdle and fail to oust two of their first-round foe.
Certainly, on one hand, it’s easy to understand the optimism on the part of Goal readers; Nigeria recently bounced back from two goals down to beat Argentina 4-2 in a friendly in Krasnodar, and so even though La Albiceleste have won every World Cup meeting between the two, there’s no longer any fear factor.
Iceland are World Cup debutants, while Croatia, for their undisputed qualities, needed the playoffs to qualify for the showpiece in Russia.
Finally, optimism is surely fuelled by Nigeria’s strong performances of late.
The Super Eagles romped through their qualifying group—dubbed the ‘Group of Death’—and have lost just one competitive match since Rohr replaced Sunday Oliseh.
The German coach has worked hard to integrate the squad’s younger, more talented stars, and has latterly taken step to redress the team’s failings—notably in defence.
However, it’s imperative that Nigeria and their supporters don’t get carried away by their first-round draw.
Argentina, despite being exposed in the second half of the recent friendly between the two nations, boast some of the world’s most talented attackers, and with Lionel Messi set for one final shot at the gold, expect him to be as motivated and focused as ever.
Croatia offer considerable experience and a cabal of talented, technical midfielders who will seek to establish control over the Eagles, while Iceland, for their relative inexperience, boast superb team unity—as demonstrated during their run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.
Certainly, the West African giants are in good stead to advance through to the final 16, but they must take nothing for granted as they prepare for next summer’s showpiece.