The Super Eagles play their opening group fixture against Croatia at Kaliningrad on Saturday at 8 p.m.
That only six players in the Super Eagles have played in any World Cup boldly highlights the inexperience of the fledgling Super Eagles side. Nigeria are the youngest in the tournament with an average age of 25.9 with considerable pressure on their shoulders. The loss to both England and Czech republic in pre-World Cup friendlies has certainly reduced expectations of the side with fans more readily steeped in reality.
Regardless, the Super Eagles under the guidance of Gernot Rohr could have their youthfulness and energy work for them against the Croatians. If expectations are reduced, Rohr has tried entirely quash them with his statement at the pre-match press conference.
“We know this pressure. We have this all the time. We had it in qualifiers. I’m sure we’ll make Nigerians happy. We have such a young team, maybe this World Cup is too soon for them.
“We have the youngest squad, so maybe 2022 will be their World Cup. We want to make Nigerian people happy, it’s not only the results, it’s the attitude and the way we play.”
The German straddling the line of detractors, seemed to serve the press and the nation a rude awakening with his words. Perhaps, he is aware of the team’s limitation and truly does not see a chance for the Super Eagles, But it is rare for a manager to so brazenly discard his teams’ chance without having kicked a ball at the tournament. The most logical conclusion remains that Rohr is downplaying the sides ability so as to stun the opponents.
William Troost-Ekong confirmed as much when he said the Super Eagles will enjoy the advantage of being underestimated, making the team poised to stun opponents.
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“Many of us will be playing at the World Cup for the first time, but this may work in our favour, as we may be underrated and so might surprise some teams. We will play without fear,” said Troost-Ekong.
Doubtless, the Croatians are well aware of the Super Eagles. Zlatko Dalic proved knowledgeable of the Nigerian team in his press conference stating the strengths of the team.
“We have our style, we like to have possession and we will be very offensive. We respect Nigeria, we know that they have great young players, and that they can be very fast on pitch and that they are very dangerous in counter-attacks.”
Nonetheless, against the Croatians, the youthful energy of the Super Eagles will help quell the strengths of the Vatreni. The ability of midfielders Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic to excellently keep and build possession stands out for Croatia. However, the tenacity and industry of the Super Eagles in midfield sets up the match up nicely.
The young side backed by Rohr behind the curtain has to show they are ready to make a mark on the World stage now, and not four years later.
Possible XI: Uzoho; Abdullahi, Ekong, Balogun, Idowu; Ndidi, Etebo; Iwobi, Mikel, Moses, Ighalo.