Only good preparation, discipline and hard work can guarantee Nigeria’ s good outing at next year’s World Cup in Brazil
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Dec. 23, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
IS Nigeria really in an easy group going by the Brazil 2014 World Cup draw held in Bahia city on December 6? Yes, say some Nigerians. No, say others. The draw has put Super Eagles of Nigeria in group F alongside Argentina, Iran and Bosina-Herzegovina. Stephen Keshi, said after the draw that the group is not an easy one. “I’m not sure it’s an easy group, it all depends on how well you prepare.”
The Eagles will play their opening match against Iran on June 16, in Curitiba. Their second match will be against Bosnia in Cuiaba on June 21 and their last group match against Argentina is on June 25, in Salvador. The Super Eagles have never played Iran and Bosnia in any competitive tournament, but will enjoy a rematch with Argentina, the South American heavyweight.
Both the technical department and the technical committee of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, have to start work immediately to put at the disposal of the Keshi led technical crew all the information, logistics and individual player’s profile in the Argentine, Iranian and Bosnian national teams. By now Nigeria should be able to know how these teams qualified for the world cup, their strengths and weaknesses and the depth of individual players.
Bosnia, being first timers, will not be an easy prospect for the Super Eagles. They are Europeans, so they will be well-prepared. Bosnia secured qualification for its first major tournament as an independent nation after emerging as winner of European qualifying Group G. It qualified ahead of Greece and Slovakia in their group with 25 points. Bosnia boasts of very good players like Edin Dzeko, Vedad Ibišević, Miralem Pjanić, as well as a very reliable goalkeeper in Asmir Begovic.
Iran has never gone past the opening round at the World Cup level and has only won one World Cup match against the United States in the 1998 tournament. The Eagles, as presently constituted, must take the Iranians very seriously because a good win will bolster player’s confidence and make the second match easy. The Eagles’ technical advisers need to know the style of football Iran plays and who its star player is? One thing is sure; there will be lots of fighting spirit in this Iranian team coached by Carlos Queiroz, former Manchester United and Real Madrid coach. Iran topped the two groups in which it played and led South Korea in Group A of their qualifiers.
Argentina, which is the last group match for the Eagles, is an ominous foe. The two teams have met three times before at the World Cup in 1994, 2002 and 2010. In 1994, it was 2-1 in favour of Argentina, in 2010, it won 1-0. At the Olympics in 1996, it was Nigeria which got the better side with a 3-2 score line, while at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Argentina got its revenge with a 1-0 win in the final match. The match will also see Mikel Obi clash again with Lionel Messi at the national level after their joust at the 2005 U-21 FIFA World Cup where the latter’s two penalty goals in the final deprived Nigeria of the trophy and, most probably, Mikel of the Most Valuable Player of the tournament award.
It is important that the perceived weakness of Bosnia and Iran, on paper does not lead to complacency. In 2010, Nigeria was pitted against Greece and South Korea, two teams in similar standing like Bosina and Iran. The Super Eagles, only managed one point from a potential six in these two fixtures, and finished the tournament bottom of their group. If there are any lessons to take from the ugly experience of the last World Cup, it is that nothing is to be taken for granted against perceived-weaker Asian opponents. Similarly, it is important that the Super Eagles start strongly, particularly in that opening fixture on June 16, against Iran.
At the Cup of Nations earlier this year, it took almost three games for Keshi’s team to click into gear and find its rhythm. Those opening fixtures against Burkina Faso, Zambia and Ethiopia saw the chief coach and his team change tactics. In the end, it took two Victor Moses goals against Ethiopia to see Nigeria through. Such a sluggish start will not be acceptable this time around. If the Super Eagles fail to pick up maximum points in their opening fixtures, they are likely to need a result of some sort against Argentina in the final group game on June 25.
Some football analysts fear that the youthful age and lack of World Cup experience could affect Supper Eagles performance at the mundial. Of the team likely to start against Iran, only Vincent Enyeama and Elderson Echiejile have played in the tournament in the past.
It is vital that the more experienced, calmer heads be brought into the squad. Joseph Yobo, played an important part as a substitute at the AFCON, and indeed, it is important that Keshi laces his squad with enough experience to fulfil this kind of role on and off the pitch next summer. The draw is certainly an excellent start to an important period for Nigeria, if the Super Eagles are to scale through Group F.