Late last week, we brought to you the Top 5 countries the Super Eagles of Nigeria should avoid in the 2018 World Cup draws. In this piece, we look at the other side of the divide as we analyze the Top 5 countries Nigeria should hope to meet at the 2018 World Cup.
With the draws set to take center stage at the State Kremlin Palace inside the Moscow Kremlin on December 1, the Super Eagles of Nigeria (who are one of the five countries to qualify from the African continent), will be hoping for a favourable draw heading into the mundial after their failure to make it past the group stages in two of the three tournaments they have participated in.
Before we head straight into the top countries that Nigeria should hope for, let’s take a look at how the draw works.
Prior to the draw, all 32 finalists will be arranged into four seeding pots based on their FIFA ranking for October 2017.
Pot 1 will contain hosts Russia and the seven teams who had the highest ranking, while Pot 2 will be populated by the next eight highest ranked teams, with the next eight in Pot 3, and the lowest ranked eight in Pot 4.
Those 32 teams will then be drawn into eight groups of four, with each group labelled from A to H. Seeding Pots 1 to 4 will be emptied by allocating each of their eight teams to a different group.
With one exception, teams from the same confederation will not be drawn together in a group. So, for example, Brazil cannot be paired with another team from South America, and Nigeria cannot be paired with another team from Africa.
The only exception applies to UEFA teams, with FIFA ruling that up to two teams from the European confederation can be drawn in the same group.
With Nigeria seeded in Pot 4 due to our rankings, the Super Eagles cannot meet any other team in the same pot as them. And as we highlighted earlier, they cannot meet the trio of Tunisia, Egypt and Senegal who are in Pot 3, because they are from the same CAF confederation as Nigeria.
The Polish national team secured their place at next year’s final after they clinched Group E’s top spot on the final day after defeating Montenegro by 4 goals to 2.
Russia 2018 will mark Poland’s eighth global finals with their participation at West Germany (1974) and Spain (1982) their most memorable as they secured 3rd place finishes on both occasions.
Their last appearance was at the World Cup in Germany where they failed to make it past the group stages.
The team has been on an upward trajectory since the qualifiers for Euro 2016 where they scored the highest number of goals, as they also reached the quarter final stage of the tournament where they lost to eventual winners, Portugal.
Also, their quest has been helped by their talisman Robert Lewandowski, who scored 16 goals during the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
This recent form of theirs has seen them soar on the FIFA rankings to 6th in the world, and they would be seeded in Pot 1.
However, regardless of their recent purple patch, the Super Eagles of Nigeria can still fancy their chances against this Polish team as their reliance on Lewandowski’s goals to bail them out most times can be of a disadvantage if he hits a sticky patch.
After making the whole world stand on its feet due to their fantastic performance at the 2014 World Cup, the Colombian national team have had a Jekyll and Hyde streak.
Then their cause was championed by the exceptional James Rodriguez who was the cornerstone of the team as he steered them through to the quarter-finals of the tournament.
Just a year after that, at the Copa America, the Colombians failed to make it past the group stages, with key players like Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado and Radamel Falcao not living up to expectations.
Also, during the qualifying phase for the World Cup, the team weren’t up to scratch as they were only able to seal qualification after these players pulled the strings for them towards the end of the campaign.
Like the Polish team, the Colombians have been culprits in depending solely on individuals and have failed to build a collective team, with the team crumbling when these players don’t come to the party.
These loop holes are things the Super Eagles can exploit, especially if Gernot Rohr can deploy specialists to man-mark these players if they are drawn in the same group at the World Cup.
Since winning the World Cup in 1966, the three lions of England have hobbled and fumbled in major tournaments, and the World Cup has been no different for them.
Appointing the wrong managers, pressure from the media, and not picking the right personnel while going into the mundial have been crucial factors for such poor form, and the Super Eagles can surely capitalize on that.
A case in point was at the last World Cup in Brazil where they failed to advance past the group stages, with lowly ranked Costa Rica progressing ahead of them. At the Euro 2016 also, they crumbled under pressure as they capitulated to minnows Iceland in the Round of 16 of the competition.
The only time the Super Eagles have played their English counterparts at the World Cup was in 2002 where they played out a goalless draw in that encounter. Then, the Nigerian team played with an arguably inferior team to what the Gernot Rohr tutored side can currently boast of.
Also, with the Super Eagles now possessing very technically gifted players like Alex Iwobi, Leon Balogun and Victor Moses, they certainly can match the English team for pace, power, finesse and organization if they are pitted against them at the World Cup group stage.
It says so much about your footballing prowess (or lack of it) as a nation if you have only been to three World Cups prior to the 2018 competition. In fact, the last time the Peruvian national team got to the FIFA global showpiece was in 1982.
The team, though, have had a bit of a renaissance under the guidance of Ricardo Gareca, but are still short of experience when it comes to competing at the biggest stage, as some of the players might crumble under pressure.
That basically is one major reason the Super Eagles of Nigeria will have an edge over the South Americans if they are in the same group, considering the fact that they have appeared at the mundial five times.
Also, the only player of note in their team is former PSV Eindhoven and Schalke O4 player Jefferson Farfan, who currently plays for Locomotive Moscow, with some considering him a spent force.
With the experience of players like John Obi Mikel, Ogenyi Onazi and Wilfred Ndidi, the Super Eagles can lick their lips at the chance of playing the Peruvians if they are drawn in the same group.
The Iranian national team are a dominant footballing nation on the Asian continent, but on the World stage, they can be really appalling when pitted against other great footballing nation.
The Carlos Quiroz-led side have won the Asian Cup thrice in the past, but have crashed out of the first round of the FIFA World Cup the four times they have entered the competition.
Regardless of the Super Eagles being ranked below them, they definitely can still boast of way better players that the Iranian team, with Alireza Jahanbakhsh being the biggest player in the team as he plays for AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch Eredivise.
With the kind of squad Gernot Rohr has built in the past one year, the team can definitely beat its chest to go past the Iranians if they get them when the draws are made.