Nigeria will once again face Argentina at a World Cup finals after both nations were drawn in Group D for Russia 2018. It will be their fifth World Cup clash, with Nigeria having lost each of the last four – an ominous sign as they look to beat Iceland and Croatia to second-place in the group.
John Obi Mikel (Tianjin TEDA)
Nigeria comfortably qualified from Group B of the African section third round to reach Russia 2018, having initially finished unbeaten from their six games before they were hit with a retrospective 3-0 defeat for their final group game after fielding suspended player Shehu Abdullahi.
They had previously had to beat Swaziland over two legs, which they did courtesy of a 2-0 home win after a goalless first-leg draw, to reach the third round, before their European-based players took centre-stage to dominate the group.
Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi twice scored in wins against Zambia, while Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses were on target in an impressive 4-0 defeat of African champions Cameroon.
Since first qualifying for the World Cup back in 1994, Nigeria have played in all but the 2006 tournament.
They advanced to the last-16 in their first two attempts, before two group-stage exits either side of their failure to qualify. Last time out, however, they reached the last-16 again, where they went on to lose to France having initially qualified for the knock-out stages behind Argentina during the group stage.
Gernot Rohr was true to his word after ruling out any surprise inclusions in the Super Eagles’ World Cup squad. Rumours that most-capped player Vincent Enyeama, who retired from international duty, could be tempted to return proved wide of the mark despite a lack of experience between the sticks for Nigeria - Carl Ikeme, their previous number one goalkeeper, was diagnosed with acute leukaemia at the start of the season. Nigeria have youth throughout the team, but having called up experienced players for the tournament in Brazil four years ago, Rohr resisted the temptation to do the same this time. Wilfred Ndidi suffered a hamstring injury playing for Leicester at the end of April but was ruled fit enough for the World Cup. Gent’s Moses Simon was not so fortunate, however – injury denying him a place in the final 23.
Though neither have been prolific at club level this season, much is expected of Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho as Nigeria pin their future on the two 21-year-old strikers. Iheanacho scored eight goals in his first 15 international caps, while Iwobi’s four goals include two against Argentina, and the goal which confirmed the Super Eagles’ World Cup place against Zambia. Iheanacho also finished the Premier League season by scoring a superb goal against Tottenham at Wembley. Victor Moses also has a good goalscoring record at international level, while John Obi Mikel is one of the more experienced players – the former Chelsea player leading Nigeria in midfield.
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While recent friendly scalps include Argentina, who they beat 4-2 in November, and Poland – where Nigeria won 1-0 on March – the Super Eagles are without a win in their last five matches. A 2-0 defeat to Serbia was followed by an unofficial friendly against Europa League champions Atletico Madrid – with an inexperienced squad losing 3-2 in Uyo. The senior friendlies that have followed saw a 1-1 draw with DR Congo despite William Troost-Ekong’s first international goal, and then a 2-1 defeat at Wembley against England – Alex Iwobi scoring for the Super Eagles. The final World Cup warm-up ended in a 1-0 defeat to the Czech Republic.
1 – Daniel Akpeyi (Chippa United) – Age 31 – 7 caps/0 goals
16 – Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Enyimba) – Age 29 – 24 caps/0 goals
23 – Francis Uzoho (Deportivo La Coruna) – Age 19 – 6 caps/0 goals
2 – Brian Idowu (Amkar Perm) – Age 26 – 5 caps/1 goal
3 – Elderson Echuejile (Cercle Brugge) – Age 30 – 62 caps/3 goals
4 – Kenneth Omeruo (Chelsea) – Age 24 – 39 caps/0 goals
5 – William Troost-Ekong (Bursaspor) – Age 24 – 22 caps/1 goal
6 – Leon Balogun (Brighton & Hove Albion) – Age 28 – 19 caps/0 goals
12 – Shehu Abdullahi (Bursaspor) – Age 25 – 25 caps/0 goals
20 – Chidozie Awaziem (Nantes) – Age 21 – 4 caps/0 goals
21 – Tyronne Ebuehi (Benfica) – Age 22 – 7 caps/0 goals
8 – Oghenekaro Etebo (Las Palmas) – Age 22 – 14 caps/1 goal
10 – John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda) – Age 31 – 85 caps/6 goals
11 – Victor Moses (Chelsea) – Age 27 – 34 caps/11 goals
13 – Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City) – Age 21 – 17 caps/0 goals
17 – Ogenyi Onazi (Trabzonspor) – Age 25 – 52 caps/1 goal
19 – John Ogu (Hapoel Be’er Sheva) – Age 30 – 20 caps/2 goals
22 – Joel Obi (Torino) – Age 27 – 17 caps/0 goals
7 – Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow) – Age 25 – 72 caps/13 goals
9 – Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai) – Age 28 – 19 caps/4 goals
14 – Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City) – Age 21 – 18 caps/8 goals
15 – Simeon Nwankwo (Crotone) – Age 26 – 2 caps/0 goals
18 – Alex Iwobi (Arsenal) – Age 22 – 19 caps/5 goals
Nigeria were paired with Argentina in the group stage four years ago, and qualified second behind them, but this year’s group is stronger than that one.
Croatia boats plenty of players with big-game experience, while plucky Iceland finished ahead of Croatia in the World Cup qualifiers and showed they should not be written off when they reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2016.
Nigeria are therefore 1/3 to fail to advance from Group D with Bet365, as opposed to 9/4 to qualify, and that reflects the fact not too much should be read from their recent friendly wins – including the one against Argentina.
Inexperience is no barrier to success, meanwhile, but Nigeria will find the going tough with such a young squad. They are 7/5 to finish bottom of Group D and if Iceland show the form they have done over the last 24 months or so, that is not a bad price on Nigeria at all.
Though they have reached the second round three times before, in short they will find the going very tough in Group D – even with their recent friendly wins behind them.
Nigeria could end up with a similar World Cup to four years ago, with Argentina in their group and France potentially awaiting in the second round. The strength of Group D, with Croatia and plucky Iceland, is stronger than their group last year, however – and it would be a surprise to see them advance beyond it despite their recent success against the Argentineans.
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Complete list of 32 teams participating in World Cup 2018 and their Group Predictions