Nigeria vs Croatia : No Nigerian team going to the World Cup have had the kind of preparation these Eagles were exposed to. They played Grade A matches more than any Nigerian team going to the World Cup.
No other Nigerian team have had their bonuses and allowances sorted out before any competition.
And in the game Nigeria vs Croatia as they file out tonight against Croatia in their first group match, Nigerians expect the players to justify the investment on them. Expectations were high until their recent friendly matches. They lost to Serbia after beating Poland. They drew with Congo in Nigeria and lost the next matches against England and Czech Republic.
A team can play well or show promise even in defeat. That could raise the hope of their fans. But the Eagles did not play well in their last three friendlies and the expectations of Nigerians are now based on patriotism and the element of surprise. However, their coach Gernot Rohr was still hopeful and vowed to fix the flaws in the team. He has no choice otherwise the story may not be pleasant for Nigerians in the Nigeria vs Croatia game today.
Against England, their first half was awful. They picked up in the second half but still exposed what technocrats would agree was a coaching problem. England had so much space in Nigeria’s area and easily opened up the defence. They could have scored more if they were lethal. Eagles could not do close- marking and failed in collective play.
They were not a unit and this created space between the defenders and the midfielders. Same happened among the midfielders and this affected their attack. They allowed space between the midfielders and the strikers. They looked ordinary and hisses were loud at home. They improved in the second half when they scored to reduce the tally to 2-1 but their game against Czech Republic still showed some of these flaws.
Correcting them and having the courage to drop some big names who have lost form for more enterprising ones are the things the German coach must do for Eagles to win or at-least be competitive against a team that boast of more quality players. Luka Modric is arguably one of the best midfielders in the world today. He plays for Real Madrid, the European champions for three successive years. Ivan Rakitic plays for Barcelona, Mario Mandzukic plays for Juventus and Andrej Kramaric is one of the key players for Hofenheim.
Their Milan Badelj is a strong man in Dinamo Zagreb and Nikola Kalinic is an AC Milan strong player. The Croatian team that the Eagles will play today have quality. But if the Eagles can raise their game, anything can happen. With Alex Iwobi, Etebor, Ndidi, Victor Moses, Ighalo and Mikel Eagles can lift their game if they play collectively. They have no super stars in the team.
They have no player who can make the difference in difficult moments. But they have fairly good players whose biggest problem has been their inability to play as a unit. And if they can get it right today Croatia look beatable. And if they win, it will put them in good stead against Iceland and Argentina. Making the Eagles play as a unit will be the biggest task of Gernot Rohr.
Good teams are not necessarily full of stars. Good teams result from good team play. Average players who make a good team can beat a team of stars without team play. The Eagles parade fairly good players and if Rohr makes a good team out of them, they may truly live up to the prediction of some who say this is Nigeria’s time to get to the quarter or semifinals of the World Cup. But going by the friendlies on their way to Russia Nigerians should celebrate if they qualify for the second round.
The possible line up for the Nigeria vs Croatia game will be Uzoho in goal, Leon Balogun and Troost-Ekong in the central defence. Tyronne Ebuehi(If he is fit having suffered a cut on the nose Wednesday) and Idowu would man the full back positions in a 4-3-3 formation that could feature Mikel, Ndidi and John Ogu in the midfield. Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi and Odion Ighalo could be the attackers.