Friday, May 14, 2021

Eagles set to advance to fourth round of 16 at World Cup


tiamin rice

The Super Eagles will clash with La Albiceleste to give it their best shot when they both meet today at Saint Petersburg to guarantee a fourth Round of 16 berth at the FIFA World Cup finals.

Long before the contingent arrived in Saint Petersburg on Sunday evening, technical chiefs concerned themselves principally on what would be the best formation to establish an impregnable defence, a resilient and coherent midfield and a lethal front section that would make hay from half chances.

There is belief that first choice goalkeeper Francis Uzoho is growing in confidence and would do his utmost, but the outfield is where Coach Gernot Rohr and assistants are presented with interesting choices. They are keeping playing personnel and formation close to their chests.

The 67,000 – capacity Zenit Arena is located on a piece of land reclaimed from the sea, in the Krestovsky Ostrov (Krestovsky Island) district of Saint Petersburg. Behind the magnificent facility is a vast stretch of water that leads to the Gulf of Finland.

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But it is doubtful whether the gulf in World Cup pedigree and accomplishments between the two teams (Argentina had won two FIFA World Cup titles and finished as runners-up on two occasions before Nigeria made her debut at the finals in 1994) would amount to much when Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir’s whistle goes for kick-off on Tuesday night.

Argentina is in desperate situation following a score-draw in their first game against Iceland and comprehensive defeat by Croatia, and will throw everything at their disposal at the Super Eagles. But the African flag bearer is not a team to be easily brow-beaten, and have adopted an ‘Argentina Must Fall’ motto since flaying Iceland in Volgograd.

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The 0-3 reverse to Croatia in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday was the heaviest World Cup group stage defeat suffered by Argentina since they were annihilated 6-1 by then Czechoslovakia in Helsinborg (Sweden) 60 years ago.

Poor form and intense media hype about collapse of order in their camp notwithstanding, the two-time world champions are known to rise to the big occasion and today’s encounter is poised as the biggest occasion for their array of superstars in recent years.

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The likes of Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano could be making their last FIFA World Cup appearance, and Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Paulo Dybala will kick themselves several times if the Albiceleste, reigning vice champions, are kicked out of the World Cup at group stage.

For Nigeria, Captain Mikel Obi is also perhaps playing in his last World Cup. Like Messi, he would have been playing in his fourth World Cup, but he missed Germany 2006 by the whiskers (Nigeria thwarted by head-to-head voodoo) and South Africa 2010 as a result of injury.

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In 2005, Messi won gold and Mikel silver at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in The Netherlands, and while Messi was named Player of the Tournament, Mikel was named second best. Three years later, when Messi led Argentina to defeat Nigeria by the odd goal in the men’s Olympics final in Beijing, Mikel was absent. Both men were involved when Argentina edged Nigeria 3-2 in Porto Alegre at the last World Cup.

These are some of the reasons why both team leaders will give their very all today, with high-level determination, tactical awareness, technical hue and energy sure to be in abundant display.

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