9 May 2018

Nigeria: 36 Days to Russia 2018 - Eagles Need This Tactic to Triumph

Photo: Daily Monitor
FIFA world cup trophy.

The countdown to Russia 2018 World Cup is less than 40 days. The pundits still believe that the Super Eagles do not stand any chance on winning the trophy. Many of these observers have based their calculations on, amongst other things - the current FIFA ranking plus the calibre and experience of the players at the highest level.

The highest calibre of global club football is the UEFA Champions League and a country like Argentina had players in various teams in the quarterfinals and beyond.

With these assumptions, the analysts expect the Eagles to be de-plumed quickly in Russia with absolutely no chance of progressing from Group D, which includes two-time champions, Argentina, star-studded Croatia, and the unflappable and unpredictable Iceland team.

Leaving the pundits - at the moment, there are two classes of Nigerian fans - the ones who are 'optimistic', and the ones who are 'realistic'.

The reasons for optimism are varied, ranging from the team's unbeaten run through the African qualifiers and the youthful nature of the team. The realists base their cynicism on the stature and quality of the opposition in Group D, especially Argentina and Croatia.

There is one thing both camps agree on - the need for the Nigerian team to do well without being embarrassed.

One strategy if deployed could ensure the Eagles come good in June - the technical team must insist and ensure that all 23 players chosen for Russia 2018 are super fit!

Again, it must be repeated that success for the Eagles in Russia does not actually mean winning the trophy. It would be getting as far as the quarterfinals - anything after that point would be a bonus or better still, a miracle.

Currently, the picture of that run is vague. The Nigerian team is the 27th when juxtaposed with the other 31 teams that qualified for the FIFA 2018 World Cup.

Football is more about current form and fitness level. After an exhausting nine months of league football, it is a surety that most players will be less than100% in Russia. This situation gives the Nigerian team a window of opportunity.

One true aspect of the Super Eagles' probable players is that most of the squad did not play week in-week out during the season. Apart from Victor Moses and Wilfred Ndidi, most of the others that are likely to get on Rohr's 23-man list have played less than 30 games [2700 minutes] all season.

If Amaju Pinnick wants to fulfill his predictions for this team, the best thing he can do is to employ the best nutritionist and the best physical training personnel - that way the Eagles will stand a chance.

Flashback to the first ever match the Eagles played at the World Cup - against Bulgaria on June 21 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. The Bulgarians paraded a midfield that included Krassimir Balakov from Sporting Lisbon; Peter Hubchev from Hamburg, and Yordan Letchkov, also from Hamburg. In attack, they had Hristo Stoichkov from Barcelona and Emil Kostadinov from Porto.

In the Nigerian team was Sunday Oliseh from Standard Liege, at the base of midfield; Samson Siasia from Nantes; Finidi George from Ajax, and Emmanuel Amuneke from Zamalek. In attack, the Eagles boasted the legendary Rashidi Yekini, then of Vitoria Setubal and Daniel Amokachi, playing in Belgium with Club Brugge.

Comparing the lineups before kickoff would have made then manager, Clemens Westerhof, nurture a horde of butterflies in his stomach but the team was hyper fit. Despite some initial wobbles, they triumphed 3-0 over the better-rated Bulgarians.

They were fitter, stronger, and more athletic, three attributes that gave them a chance to play. It won't be any different for the Eagles class of 2018 in Russia.

For the Eagles to stand a chance against Croatia's superstar midfield of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, and Kovacic and the Lionel Messi-led Argentina - they will have to employ greater physical fitness, strength, and agility.

The Eagles, as a team is collectively better rested, having played lesser games of less intensity. They can turn these attributes into the weapons with which they go to war in Russia. On paper, they might not stand a chance but football is a physical as much as it is a tactical game.

The Eagles should take comfort from the way Liverpool beat Manchester City over two legs in the Champions League, the Reds were not better but they ran faster and much more than the Citizens.

The Eagles must become running men - that is the template to win in Russia!

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