Nigeria have been drawn in Group D of the Russia 2018 World Cup along with South American giants Argentina, Europeans Iceland and Croatia.
At a star-studded Final Draw ceremony at the State Kremlin Palace in Russia on Friday, the Super Eagles, who were in Pot 4 of the draws, drew the Argentines, who were seeded in Pot 1, and Croatia and Iceland, who were in Pots 2 and 3.
In some mouth-watering group stage match-ups, 2010 World Cup winners Spain were drawn alongside reigning European champions Portugal in Group B, while Belgium – packed with stars from the English Premier League – were drawn alongside England in Group G.
Russia 2018 will be the fifth meeting between Nigeria and Argentina at the World Cup while the Eagles will be playing Croatia and Iceland for the first time at the Mundial. Nigeria clashed with the South Americans at US ’94, Korea/Japan ’02, South Africa 2010 and the 2014 edition in Brazil.
Nigeria, who are making their sixth World Cup appearance, have avoided Argentina only once at the 1998 edition in France. In all their meetings however, Argentina have triumphed – beating Nigeria 2-1 in USA, winning 1-0 in 2002, getting another 1-0 win in 2010 and a 3-2 win in 2014.
Iceland are making their first appearance at the World Cup while Croatia are making their fifth appearance at the Mundial since their first appearance in 1998, when they finished third.
The Eagles will play their first match against Croatia on June 16, 2018, at the Kaliningrad Stadium in Kaliningrad while their second match holds on June 22 against Iceland at the Volgograd Arena in Volgograd. Their last match against Argentina comes up on June 26 at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg.
Meanwhile, with an average age of 24.9, according to FIFA, Nigeria paraded the youngest team in the qualifiers for Russia 2018. Group opponents Iceland had an average age of 29.0 while Argentina had 28.4 and Croatia paraded a team with an average age of 27.5.
Eagles’ striker, Odion Ighalo, described the group as a tough one but believes that the youth in the team would boost their performance at the World Cup.
“This is a tough group but I believe that we can progress to the next round of the competition. All we need to do is to keep up with the spirit with which we played the qualifiers,” he told Supersport.
“We were very determined to do well and qualify for the World Cup and we showed that with each match we played in the qualifiers. Every team in the group are tough – not only Argentina. Iceland defeated England at the Euro 2016 and they went on to qualify comfortably for the World Cup. Croatia too are a very good side while we already know that Argentina are a tough team.
“But we will work hard and ensure that we give our best in our first match to start the competition on a comfortable note. We have the players who can do it – we are young and confident – and we also have experienced players like our captain Mikel (Obi). We can do well at the World Cup.”
Former Nigeria coach, Adegboye Onigbinde, told our correspondent that the group was fair, adding that the preparations for the first match should begin immediately.
He said, “I believe that no group at the World Cup or any other competition is tough or easy. Every group is fair because all the teams at the competition played qualifiers and deserved to be at the competition.
“Since the draw has been made, the Eagles coach and the players should ensure that they don’t overrate any team. They should also not underrate themselves. They should ensure that they see each team as they are – a team to be beaten – and work hard towards achieving that goal. Preparations for the first match should begin immediately with the coach identifying his team’s strength and weaknesses and working to perfect them.
“There is no perfect team but to do well at the World Cup, he needs to cover his team’s loopholes and put his players in the right frame of mind. Beating Argentina 4-2 in a friendly doesn’t mean we will beat them again at the World Cup. Every team in the group have equal chances of progressing so Nigeria should work hard to merit their qualification from the group.”
Also, former Eagles captain and coach, Austin Eguavoen, said the group is difficult but believes that with tactical discipline, Nigeria could progress.
He told Supersport, “The group is quite tough but the focus should not be on Argentina alone, rather the coach (Gernot Rohr) should plan well for all the teams. The group will be won by teams with the best tactics.
“The Eagles have young players who are fast and can run for 90 minutes. These can be used to run the opponents back and get the desired results. In 1994, (Clemens) Westerhof couldn’t manage the game well and it affected our performance in some matches but if Rohr can correct that, the team will excel well in Russia.”
Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay are in Group A while Portugal, Spain, Morocco and Iran are in Group B. France, Australia, Peru and Denmark are in Group C.
Group E has Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia, Group F consists of Germany, Mexico Sweden and Korea, while Belgium, Panama, Tunisia and England are in Group G. Group H has Poland, Senegal, Colombia and Japan.