Saturday, June 16, 2018 6:42 am
By Kazeem Ugbodaga, with Agency Report
There is no more hiding place as Nigeria’s Super Eagles set to soar over their Croatia counterpart in their first game at the FIFA World Cup in Russia today, Saturday 16 June.
The game, billed for 8.00pm Nigeria time is expected to be explosive. The Super Eagles have to redeem the image of Africa as two of the continent’s representatives, Egypt and Morocco stumbled on Friday. While Egypt fell to Uruguay by a lone goal, the Moroccans allowed Iran to run away with a victory.
So, the pressure is on Nigeria to salvage Africa’s pride on Saturday as they meet the experienced Croatian team that boast of the like of Real Madrid’s midfield maestro, Lucas Modric and Juventus’ goal machine, Mario Mandzukic who has 30 international goals for his country.
On paper and current form, the Croatians appear favourite, but the Super Eagles know how to rise in big occasions like the World Cup. Their physicality will make it difficult for the Croatians to have an edge.
At home, Nigerians are looking with hope that the Super Eagles will deliver this time around, especially after strings of losses during friendly matches in the build up to the World Cup.
In Saturday’s game, Odion Ighalo is likely to start for Nigeria on what will be his 29th birthday, while Wilfred Ndidi is expected to be fit, despite concerns over a hamstring injury.
Defender Leon Balogun is a doubt after missing training on Thursday.
Experienced Croatian quartet Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Vedran Corluka and Mario Mandzukic should start.
There is still uncertainly in a number of positions, but Ivan Strinic is tipped to get the nod at left-back.
According to Nigeria’s coach, Gernot Rohr: “I love this group because we know how to rise to the occasion together. Nigeria will be ready for Croatia.”
Rohr, who resterday addressed the media before the team’s training session, said he was sure that his team was in shape to get a good result.
“We know the importance of getting a good result. It is important that we set out well, and we have been doing our best to be in good condition, just like I said earlier today.
“Now that we are here and close to the hour, the players are in the right mood and ready for Croatia. We will do what is necessary,’’ he said.
Rohr assured that injuries were not the team’s worries at the moment, but how to get it right during the game.
“What we need to worry about is how to get our tactics right, and I am confident that we have done all that is necessary in this regard,’’ he added.
Team Captain, Mikel Obi equally assured that his teammates were ready and raring to go against the Croats.
“As a team, we have done all that is needed, training and getting fit. We the players are also ready to do the job on the pitch as expected.
“I can assure Nigerians and all our other fans worldwide that we will do our best and ensure we do not disappoint them,’’ he said.
According to Croatia striker, Nikola Kalinic: “The most important thing now are those three points. We certainly have very high quality offensive players and we shouldn’t be afraid. It’s important that we play well and create opportunities for our attackers.”
Certainly, the stage is set and the Super Eagles are gearing to soar above their Croatia counterpart.