15 June 2014

Nigeria: Super Eagles Face Must-Win Contest With Minnows Iran

Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
Nigeria's Ahmed Musa provided striker Emmanuel Emenike with a low ball to score, but the goal was disallowed after an offside call which gave the Super Eagles cause to feel aggrieved.

African champions Nigeria begin their World Cup campaign against Group F minnows Iran in Curitiba on Monday, a match they will feel they have to win to make the second round in Brazil.

OVERVIEW

With their status as African champions, much is expected of Nigeria at this World Cup even if coach Stephen Keshi did say he was building a squad to compete in Russia in 2018.

The draw has been just about as kind as it could be, with Iran likely to be the least proficient side in the competition, although they will be organized, fit and likely difficult to break down.

In a group that also contains Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina, this is a must-win for the Super Eagles from a points and confidence point of view and they certainly have the firepower to do it.

There is a good blend of youth and experience in the team and under Keshi they are well-marshalled and prepared. His role as a father-figure to many in the squad should also not be underestimated.

Nigeria had a taste of Brazil in the 2013 Confederations Cup where they exited in the first round but gave a decent account of themselves.

Iran are an unknown factor for them and have one of the game's great tacticians as their coach, former South Africa, Portugal and Real Madrid boss Carlos Queiroz, who was also a long-time assistant to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.

The Mozambique-born coach knows African football very well and is tipped to rejoin South Africa after the World Cup, having already stated he will leave Iran, no matter what their destiny in this tournament.

He has lowered expectations and says he rather just wants to see a proud performance from his team, rather than talking up their chances either in this game or to get out of the group.

The only previous meeting between the sides came in 1998 when Nigeria won 1-0 in Hong Kong.

KEY PLAYERS

Ashkan Dejagah (Iran) - Dejagah was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season for Fulham as they were relegated from the English Premiership. The 27-year-old showed his attacking capabilities, either playing wide on the right or as a central striker.

He has good experience after years in the German Bundesliga with Wolfsburg as well and is a key part of the Iranian side.

John Obi Mikel (Nigeria) - Obi Mikel remains a pivotal part of this Nigeria side, anchoring the midfield and allowing their ball-players to express their talent with more freedom. It seems impossible that he is only 27; he seems to have been around forever, but the Chelsea star is one of the most experienced players in this fresh-faced Nigeria side and that knowledge will be crucial in trying to get past a stubborn Iran.

WHAT THEY SAY

Carlos Queiroz (Iran coach) - "In the past three years, we have had many problems in terms of training camps and friendly matches but the Iranian players made history and qualified for the World Cup. They deserve to be here. We don't regret and don't make excuses. All we want to do is walk off the field proud of the way we played against Nigeria.

My only concern is to keep our heads up at the end of the match."

Stephen Keshi (Nigeria coach) - "I think an experienced coach is their biggest weapon, because he's (Carlos Queiroz) well experienced, he knows the game well. For the Iran game we have to be focused. We have to concentrate and do our job. We're not going to take Iran lightly because they're not going to take us lightly. So we have to go out with everything that we have. They have a very good coach and I'm sure they also have some quality players. We don't know Iran very well, but we'll see them on Monday."

MATCH FACTS

Date: Monday, June 16

Kick-off: 19h00 (GMT)

Venue: Arena da Baixada, Curitiba

Referee: Carlos Vera (Ecuador)

NIGERIA HEAD-TO-HEAD VS IRAN

P1 W1 D0 L0 GF1 GA0

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