Prior to the FIFA 2018 World Cup draws being made, we brought you Part 1 of how far we think the Super Eagles can go at the World Cup, judging by their past performances.
But with the draws already being made, we would now take a comprehensive look at the opponents in their group and potential paths in the knock-out round.
The Super Eagles have been pitted against Croatia, Iceland and Argentina, with their first match set to be against Croatia.
While this is not the best possible group the Super Eagles could have fallen into, it is surely not the worst.
Nigeria has a knack for drawing Argentina in a FIFA World Cup group as they will be meeting with La Albiceleste for the fifth time at the Mundial. The five times they have met – in 1994, 2002, 2010 and 2014, the Super Eagles have lost against their South American rivals on each encounter, albeit by a slim margin. The only time the Super Eagles have been able to get one past the Argentines have been in friendly matches as they put 4 past them on both occasions.
The most recent game, which took place almost a month ago, saw the Super Eagles match the Argentines man for man as they came out tops, winning by 4 goals to 2.
It must be said though, that the Argentines were without their talisman, captain and leading goal scorer, Lionel Messi. That game certainly showed a lot of loop-holes in the Argentine team – especially in the defence, that Nigeria can exploit as Gernot Rohr will be hoping his team can replicate such a performance when they meet in Russia.
The Super Eagles have got a decent record against European teams at the World Cup having won five, drawn one and lost two of their previous eight games against teams from the continent.
They beat Bulgaria in 1994 and 1998, Greece in 1994, Spain in 1998 and Bosnia in 2014, drawing with England in 2002, and will be hoping to get at least four points heading into the final fixture against Argentina.
The Croats, however, will pose a different kind of threat for the Super Eagles. Incidentally, they placed second (six wins, two draws and two losses) in their World Cup qualifying group that saw the Icelandic team emerge tops.
Nonetheless, they navigated their two-legged playoff match against the Greeks with so much adroitness as they obliterated them 4-1 before drawing 0-0 in the second leg.
Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan) and Nikola Kalinić (AC Milan) have been influential players for the team in the past few years as they can cause havoc to opposing teams in the blink of an eye.
It must be worth noting that the man who started the renaissance of Icelandic football from the early 2010 is former Nigeria coach, Lars Lagerback. While Lagerback was in charge of Nigeria at the 2010 World Cup, the Icelandic team narrowly lost out in the playoffs to Croatia on their way to that same mundial.
Officially, they are the smallest nation to ever clinch a FIFA World Cup spot. It’s definitely not how big your team is in terms of population but how big your heart is as well as the fight you’ve got within you.
This team are certainly not lacking in the latter as they showed the spirit of Vikings on their way to reaching the quarter finals of Euro 2016 – their first ever major tournament, where they lost to the French team.
Furthermore, the Island, which can only boast of 21,508 football players (fewer than the city of Kano in Nigeria), topped their World Cup qualifying group ahead of the likes of Croatia.
Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson is the only player of note that is doing great exploits for a big European club. However, it is the team’s collective effort that has seen them get to the current place as they would be looking to upset the applecart once again at a major tournament.
Potential paths in the knock-out round
They say that one should never count their eggs before they hatch – as the Super Eagles once did in France 98’ when they were preparing to face the Brazilians in the quarterfinals, having not yet navigated past the Danish team.
However, it doesn’t hurt to take stock of how the team can progress if they get past the group stages. As is the norm at any major footballing competition, the winners of each group would face the second place finisher in the next group.
With the Super Eagles being drawn in Group D, they would surely meet a team in Group C in the round of 16. With the Argentines most likely to finish at the top of Group D – on the grounds that they sort out their problems before the World Cup kicks off, a second place finish is probably what Nigeria would have to jostle for with both Croatia and Iceland.
Peradventure they place second, they would have a potential date with France, who are the odd-on favorites to come first in Group C. If things go according to plan and the Super Eagles go past the French team and book a spot in the quarter finals, they would lock horns against either Spain, Portugal, Russia or Uruguay, as these are the teams that are most likely to come through unscathed from both Groups A and B.
Football, like they say is not Mathematics, but if the Super Eagles play their cards right, they might just become the first African team to get to the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup.