The draw for the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup will hold on Friday, December 1 at the State Kremlin Palace inside the Moscow Kremlin. This event which is part of activities leading to the competition is expected to kick off around 18:00 local time, which is 4pm Nigerian time.
The attention of Nigerians will be focused on the Super Eagles and rightly so. Sports and football, in particular, is one of the things that unites every Nigerian regardless of class, ethnicity and religion.
The draw for the 2018 edition of the World Cup will take a different shape from the previous ones. The Russia 2018 draw will be determined by the usual pot system, but there’s a slight twist: national teams will be seeded based on their October 2017 FIFA World Ranking, with Pot 1 containing the highest-ranked teams, Pot 2 containing the next highest-ranked teams, and so on.
In previous editions, only one pot containing the highest-ranked teams was determined by rank, with the other three pots determined by continental confederation. The hosts, Russia will be placed in Pot 1 and treated as a seeded team, alongside the seven highest-ranked teams that qualified for the tournament.
In the October FIFA ranking, the Super Eagles were ranked 41st in the world and fifth in Africa, thereby securing a place in Pot 4. The Super Eagles’ October ranking means Nigeria can face any team in Pot 1 (Russia – the hosts, Germany – the defending champions, Brazil, Portugal – European champions, Argentina – South American runner-up, Belgium, Poland, and France – European runner-up).
One country Nigeria should be wary of facing in next year’s championship is Argentina. Though the Eagles defeated the La Albiceleste 4-2 last month, the South American giants have defeated Nigeria four times (USA 94: Nigeria 1 Argentina 2, Korea/Japan 2002: Argentina 1 Nigeria 0, South Africa 2010: Argentina 1 Nigeria 0, Brazil 2014: Nigeria 2 Argentina 3) at various editions of the World Cup.
Nigeria can also face any of the teams in Pot 2 (Spain, Peru, Switzerland, England, Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay, and Croatia).
Pot 3 has the likes of Denmark, Iceland, Costa Rica, Sweden, Tunisia, Egypt, Senegal, and Iran, while Pot 4 has Serbia, Nigeria, Australia, Japan, Morocco, Panama, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
Nigeria can face any of Denmark, Iceland, Costa Rica, Sweden, and Iran in Pot 3. The Super Eagles cannot face any African team in the group stages as no group can have more than one country from the same continental confederation with the exception of UEFA, which must have at least one, but no more than two in a group.
Also, the Super Eagles cannot face any of the teams in Pot 4.
Nigeria will do well to avoid any team from South America (Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, and Uruguay) at the group stage as the Super Eagles have lost all its five games (four times to Argentina, and once to Paraguay (1-3) at France 1998) against teams from CONMEBOL at the World Cup. The Super Eagles should relish facing teams from UEFA as all Nigeria’s victory (five times) at the World Cup have come against opponents from Europe.
Hosts Russia, seem like the easiest team in Pot 1, but we would prefer that the Eagles avoid them due to the massive home support they’d receive, and the boys may cave under the pressure. With Russia out of the equation, the other seeming favourable draw from Pot 1 should be Poland. From Pot 2, since Nigeria should avoid CONMEBOL teams, the Super Eagles are left with Spain, Switzerland, England, Mexico, and Croatia. Nigeria defeated Spain 3-2 at France 1998 (how can you forget Sunday Oliseh’s thunderous strike), while the Super Eagles played out a barren draw against England at Korea/Japan 2002. The Three Lions have some good individual players with the likes of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling, who seems to have found his form under the tutelage of Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola. Though the Eagles defeated the 2010 World Cup champions 19 years ago, the Spanish team is on the ascendancy after its dismal showing at Brazil 2014 where it crashed out at the group stage, avoiding Spain in the first round will help bolster our chances of progressing out of the group. Teams like Mexico and Switzerland may turn out to be a tough nut to crack if grouped with Nigeria. The Swiss emerged second from their qualifying group, level on points with group leaders Portugal. In 2009, Switzerland won the FIFA U-17 World Cup defeating Nigeria at the Abuja National Stadium through a Haris Seferović header. Eight years later, Seferović alongside Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka, AC Milan’s Ricardo Rodríguez (both members of the 2009 victorious team), and Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri are key members of the Swiss team. The same cannot be said of Nigeria‘s representative at the same tournament (a story for another day). Of the remaining two teams (England and Croatia) in Pot 2, facing England will not only be spectacular, but it will also generate a lot of buzz, as many Nigerian-born players have dumped the Green and White jersey for the country of Her Majesty. Not forgetting that the Super Eagles have every chance of defeating England, who are exceptional during the qualifiers, but fail to turn up during tournaments.
There’s just one team we would love Nigeria to meet from Pot 3, and that is Iran. It was a goalless draw the last time both teams met at Brazil 2014, but this time around, Nigeria has what it takes to defeat the Iranians.
So we want the Super Eagles’ Russia 2018 group to consist of Poland, England, Iran, and Nigeria.
What teams are you expecting to be in Nigeria’s group?