World Cup Countdown: The ones to watch for Nigeria

As the World Cup edges closer, we continue our run down of all 32 competing nations in Russia. The Super Eagles only made their World Cup debut in 1994 but have now qualified for six of the last seven, progressing to the knockout stage on three occasions in that time.

Assuming group favourites Argentina finish first, second place could set up a last 16 tie against France, who are expected to top Group C.

Nigeria have never made it past the last 16 at the World Cup and will struggle to reach uncharted waters in Russia if they finish runners-up to Argentina.

Nevertheless, Nigeria do have some talented players and their supporters should be looking forward to the World Cup.

Despite the fact Cameron and Algeria were in their four-nation group in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Gernot Rohr’s breezed through, winning four of their six matches.

Former Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel is expected to captain Nigeria in Russia, but it will be interesting to see whether his level has dropped off at all since moving to China.

The 31-year-old has started all 11 of Tianjin Teda’s league matches this season and has even played a direct hand in three goals (one goal, two assists).

Mikel should be partnered in midfield for emerging Leicester star Wilfred Ndidi. The 21-year-old has made a great impression since signing from Genk in January 2017 and has already been linked with a high profile move to Liverpool.

In fact, only Chelsea ace N’Golo Kante (198) made more tackles and interceptions combined than Ndidi (188) in the Premier League this season. He will be key against Iceland, Argentina and Croatia, who will all look to get their main creators into dangerous attacking positions.

Ndidi’s role will be even more important for Rohr’s side as they do not have a high profile defender in their ranks, although Brighton fans will hope to pay a close eye on summer signing Leon Balogun.

Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho will be the ones to watch in attack for Nigeria but they are also lacking a striker that will inflict fear in the opposition.

CSKA Moscow forward Ahmed Musa is the top scorer in the squad and he only has 13 international goals – he has only scored in one of his last 21 matches for Nigeria.

Odion Ighalo has scored seven goals in 11 matches for Changchun Yatai in the Chinese Super League this season, but those have all come in three games. The 28-year-old will lead the line, but his record does not inspire great confidence ahead of the World Cup.

The absence of renowned defenders and attackers does not make great reading for Nigeria. Even more so when you consider they have only won one of their last 10 World Cup matches.


Story: Gottlieb BAAKO

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