#WorldCup Preview: It’s time for Nigeria to show that it can shine more than its jersey

WorldCup2018

“It is time to set childish things away and focus on the reason why they are wearing that jersey” my words to my friend this morning as we were doing our own mini preview of the big game tonight between Nigeria and Croatia.

There is no doubt there is a massive frenzy with the Nigerian team and the jersey that they have on display. Today the Super Eagles will have the chance to do the talking on the pitch against a very strong Croatia side by 8:00 PM Nigerian time.

The Super Eagles will be looking to impress in the main event after a series of underwhelming pre-World Cup performances against DR Congo, England and the Czech Republic where the Super Eagles were only able to manage a draw and two defeats. Nigerians may say we are a tournament team and God will do it for us – oh well.

I personally hope Nigeria plays a 5-3-2 system against a top side like Croatia because the 4-2-3-1 formation will not cut it against a strong side (ko le werk o). Croatia’s midfielder and playmaker Luka Modric will need to be watched closely. Mario Mandzukic will be a worrying threat to Nigeria’s defence especially with the Eagles’ frailties in setpieces and crosses to the box. As a Nigerian I will predict a draw for the Super Eagles, but in reality, Croatia have this game 2 – 0 (my predictions are always wrong).

MATCH FACTS

Head-to-head

  • This will be the first encounter between Croatia and Nigeria.
  • Croatia’s only previous World Cup game against African opposition saw them beat Cameroon 4-0 in June 2014.
  • Nigeria have won just one of their last six World Cup matches against European sides (drew one, lost four), beating Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2014.

Nigeria

  • Nigeria have qualified for their sixth World Cup – they have only missed one tournament (2006) since their first participation in 1994.
  • No African team has taken part in as many World Cups as Nigeria (six, including 2018).
  • Nigeria have won only one of their last 12 games at the World Cup (drew three, lost eight), against Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2014 (1-0).
  • Appointed in August 2016, this will be Gernot Rohr’s first World Cup as manager. Nigeria are the fourth African team he has taken charge of after Gabon, Niger and Burkina Faso.
  • On the opening day of the tournament, Nigeria’s squad had an average age of 25 years and 336 days, the youngest of any team in the competition.

Croatia

  • Croatia have won only one of their last seven World Cup games (drew two, lost four), against Cameroon in 2014 (4-0).
  • They have also kept only two clean sheets in their last 11 games.
  • Croatia have lost their opening group game in each of their last three World Cups, their last two openers coming against Brazil (2006, 2014).
  • The last four World Cup games involving Croatia have produced five red cards (three for Croatia, two for the opponents).
  • Ivan Perisic was directly involved in half of Croatia’s goals at the last World Cup (two goals, one assist).
  • Zlatko Dalic will be experiencing his first major tournament as manager. Named Croatia boss in October 2017, his team beat Ukraine in the final game of regular qualifying before eliminating Greece in the playoffs.

Stats source: BBC Sport.

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