A section of football enthusiasts in Nigeria has described the country’s 2018 World Cup group draw as “decent, but tricky”.
Nigeria was on Friday in Moscow drawn alongside Argentina in the preliminary stage for the fifth time in the Super Eagles’ six appearances at the FIFA World Cup finals.
The Super Eagles were drawn alongside Argentina, Iceland and Croatia in Group D.
Some of the football enthusiasts, who spoke with NAN in Abuja on Saturday, said the Super Eagles stood a good chance of making it out of the group.
They, however, urged the national team to tread cautiously and not take any of their opponents for granted.
Tunde Popoola, the Secretary General, Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC), said:“We were worried about getting one of the big names; I wanted a balanced group and I think we’ve got that.
“We have a decent group, but we must be cautious.
“Nothing will be easy, but it is a group in which we have a chance and so we must begin our work,” he said.
Musa Talle, the Chairman, FCT Football Association, said: “Argentina are really strong, but beatable just like we saw recently.
“There are places where we can hurt them.
“The other two teams, Croatia and Iceland, I‘m not too familiar with.
“But I think it’s a good enough draw.
“Having said that, we have to work hard and not judge anybody.
“You can’t go to a World Cup and think that a particular opponent is easy. That would be a great mistake,” he said.
Paul Bassey, the Chairman, Akwa United Football Club, said: “It’s a very deceptive and treacherous group.
“We have to accept that we are one of the favourites, but if you look at the group in a more detailed manner, you can see it’s a very difficult one.
“Argentina are naturally favourites, as I’ve always said. They are a great team, with the best player in history (Lionel Messi) and a host of top-level footballers.
“Our other opponents – Croatia and Iceland – are unpredictable sides. With them, you don’t know what you’re going to get and that makes them very dangerous as well,” he said.
Mansur Abdullahi, an Assistant Coach with Nigeria’s U-20 Women’s national team, Falconets, said, “I cannot say whether or not I am happy with the draw. The group is what it is.
“My emotions before and after the draw are the same. I smiled when we got Argentina because I kind of had them at the back of my mind.
“We beat them 4-2 in a friendly match in Russia and that makes this match a very mouth-watering and nervy encounter as both teams will be looking to prove a point.
“This is indeed a fine group. We don’t know what to expect from Croatia and Iceland, but all we know is that they are very disciplined and stubborn teams to have been able to make it to the World Cup finals.
“So, we must not take them for granted as they are the ‘dark horses’ in the group,” he said.
Godwin Bamigboye, the Chairman, Nigeria Football Coaches Association, FCT Chapter on his part said, “I like the group, I think it’s an interesting one with very good teams that try to play.
“I think that can fit in well with our character. I think it suits us.
“Our first match against Croatia will be decisive. It looks difficult on paper, but nothing is impossible in football.
“We have to believe in ourselves and continue with the same dynamism. It’s going to be marvellous,” he said.
Nduka Ugbade, an ex-international and former Assistant Coach of the Flying Eagles noted that Argentina were not going to be the only difficult opponents in the group, as the other two could turn out to be tough opponents as well.
“We must be prepared for Iceland; they are awkward opponents.
“Croatia have always had good individuals and this time they have formed a good group.
“It’s always good to have one entertaining opponent in your group and Argentina are one, without question.
“Our opponents will go there with few obligations and a lot of enthusiasm because the World Cup has given them a unique opportunity.
“It could have been better, but it could also have been worse.
“I think we can navigate our way into the knockout stages but it’s going to be tough.
“Argentina are the favourites of course, but I am confident we won’t roll over,” he said.
Meanwhile, Nigeria striker Odion Ighalo took to his Twitter handle to express his opinion on the draw.
He said: “I am happy that we are not going to play Brazil and Germany in the first round.
“With this draw, we have a good chance of qualifying from the group.
“It’s a tough group and we have to work really hard.”
NAN reports that Nigeria will take on Croatia on June 16 in Kaliningrad, before facing Iceland on June 22 in Volgograd, and Argentina on June 26 in St. Petersburg.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup is scheduled to kick-off on June 14 and last until July 15.
.. Super Eagles to face real Argentina squad — Disu
Meanwhile, a former Technical Director of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Tunde Disu, says the Super Eagles should be ready to face the real Albiceleste of Argentina at the World Cup.
Disu gave the advice in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Saturday in Lagos on the draws made on Friday that pit Nigeria in Group D alongside, Argentina, Croatia and Iceland.
NAN reports that the World Cup draws held in Russia, Nigeria is in the group alongside Argentina who they had faced four times before in the World Cup in 1994, 2002, 2010 and 2014.
The only time Nigeria avoided Argentina in the World Cup was in 1998 in France.
It will however be the fifth time Nigeria will be facing the Albiceleste opposition at the grand football fiesta.
According to the draws, Nigeria will play first against Croatia in the first ever senior international match, while the smallest nation ever to qualify for a World Cup, Iceland will play against Nigeria also in Group D.
The Icelanders, the only newcomers, will play two-time winners Argentina in their first World Cup finals match.
The Eagles last group match will be against Argentina who have turned their World Cup nemesis.
On Argentina’s opposition, Disu said that though Argentina was becoming a familiar foe, yet Nigeria should not start counting their teeth with their tongues.
“Nigeria should be ready to face the real Argentina opposition, it is true we beat them at the friendlies, but this is a World Cup with a different ball game.
“The fact that we beat them would have put some element of revenge in them because they won’t want a repeat of that at the Mundial.
“Argentina are highly technical team with which they would have welcome their talisman, Messi. What will be on their head now is that who tops the group.
“Argentina can be beatable, but how ready we are will go a long way in resolving that because we cannot really judge them with the friendly we played against them,’’ he said.
Disu said that the first game at the World Cup would count a lot if the Eagles would progress from the group stage.
“We must take our first match seriously, it is the only match that can give us an edge in the campaign. It is quite important.
“Others in the group should be taken seriously too, there is no easy group in a World Cup, and they all merited their place.
“Playing against Argentina, we should also avoid dead ball situation which can be fatal, the Argentine team are very good at the dead ball situation,’’ he said.
In the vein, Chairman, Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) Lagos Chapel, Fred Edoreh, said that there was no easy team in the World Cup.
“The thing with football now is that you cannot see a group now and say it is an easy group. Argentina we know, but the East European teams can also be dangerous.
“European teams play some very strong tactical football they have a lot of stamina and they can be crafty.
“It does not matter who is in the group now, our determination and inspiration will go a long way to see us through the group stage. The players need determination and maturity.
“Also, it also depends on the plans of the football house if they are serious with this campaign and how they will get the players ready,’’ he said.
NAN also reports that in 1994, Nigeria was pitted against Argentina, Bulgaria and Greece. The opening match was against Bulgaria which the Super Eagles won 3-0 with late Rashidi Yekini scoring the country’s first ever World Cup goal.
They topped the group in spite of losing 1-0 to Argentina because they also beat Greece 2-0 to garner six points.
In 1998, they were drawn again against Bulgaria, Spain and Paraguay, winning two matches, 3-2 against Spain, 1-0 against Bulgaria and lost 1-3 to Paraguay. They however, lost woefully in the round of 16, 1-4 to Paraguay.
In 2002, the Eagles were for the second time drawn against Argentina who beat them 1-0, they lost to Sweden 1-2 and drew 0-0 against England.
They failed to go beyond the group stage like it happened in 2010 in South Africa where they got their third pairing with Argentina alongside South Korean and Greece.
They lost 0-1 to Argentina, 1-2 to Greece and drew 2-2 with South Korea.
The experience in the 2014 edition in Brazil was like 1994 and 1998 where they were able to get out of the group but failed to go beyond the round of 16.
That year they were drawn again against Argentina, the fourth time in the World Cup, Bosnia Herzegovina and Iran. They lost 2-3 to Argentina, drew 0-0 with Iran and beat Bosnia Herzegovina 1-0 to move into the round of 16.
Following the protest on match bonuses, the team lost concentration in the round of 16 and lost to France 0-2. (NAN)