The Nigerian selection begins its 2018 FIFA World Cup with a match against Croatia on June 16th in Kaliningrad at 19:00 GMT.
As the youngest team in the tournament, Nigeria are focusing more on their freshness than on their last performances to beat the odds against the Croatians, the Icelanders (22 June) and the Argentineans (26 June), in Group D.
According to RFI correspondent from special envoy in Kaliningrad,
“Many Russians seem to support the Nigeria team. I do not really know why. Maybe it’s because my girlfriend is Russian? John Obi Mikel smiles, satisfied with his joke.” On the eve of Croatia-Nigeria (16 June from 19h GMT), the first Super Eagles match during the 2018 World Cup, the midfielder and his coach, Gernot Rohr, displayed a great relaxed, in conference Press.
Friendly matches not convincing
“We are ready, we have prepared ourselves well,” ensures the most experienced of the 23 Nigerians present at the World Cup 2018. There was no problem or worry during the preparation. There was discipline during the courses. And unity reigns from the first day.
Held in check by the DRC (1-1), then beaten by England (1-2) and the Czech Republic (0-1), the Nigerian selection has however more talked about it with his new jersey smashed that ‘with his performances on the field.
“We never lose friendly matches,” said Gernot Rohr. But I saw what I wanted to see during these meetings.
“And I’m glad I found that my players were physically ready. And I saw everybody playing, the 23. It’s more important than doing good results during preparation.”
The youngest team of the tournament
With an average age of 25.5, Nigeria has the youngest team in the tournament. “I do not think it will be a problem, relativizes John Obi Mikel. In a tournament like this, you never know…”
“Sometimes it’s true that experience counts.”
“Sometimes youth is useful. Players are full of energy and have a lot to prove. They have never evolved at this level in the past. So, I think it will help us, even if it could be a problem. But we’ve been working like that for a year and a half. And that allowed Nigeria to brilliantly qualify for the finals.”
“Maybe this World Cup comes a little early for them,” said Gernot Rohr. I think they will be ready for 2022. This 2018 edition is also used to learn.
Avoid the hiccups of the 2014 World Cup
Have Nigerians learned the lessons of 2014? They had approached the World Cup in Brazil from the height of their status as champions of Africa 2013. But despite an experienced and talented workforce, the “Super Eagles” had been sluggish until their defeat in the round of 16 against France. The whole after a strike of the training, following unpaid premiums, which made talk.
“We have no money problem. Everything is fine. Everything is in order. There is no problem in the group,” said John Obi Mikel, before going off to training on the lawn of Kaliningrad Arena Baltika.
“We are supposed to finish last of the group”
Even the dizzying pressure from tens of millions of Nigerian fans does not seem to worry Rohr and his protégé.
“This pressure, we suffer all the time. I am sure we will make Nigerians happy. We have a young team,” recalls the German-French technician.
“If you take a look at the FIFA ranking, you will see that we are 47th [48th, Editor’s note]. Croatia is ranked much better than us, as the other teams, Iceland and Argentina. So, we are supposed to finish last of the group, normally. That’s why we are humble and modest. But we are ambitious.”
A well-crafted speech that does not fool Luka Modric, the star player of the Croatian selection. “We do not think of the rankings, concludes the Real Madrid midfielder, in a press conference. We know it’s a trap team, maybe the best African team.” The only present in Russia to have in any case compete in the last two World Cups.