epa06842860 Odion Ighalo (down) of Nigeria reacts after the FIFA World Cup 2018 group D preliminary round soccer match between Nigeria and Argentina in St.Petersburg, Russia, 26 June 2018.
Tuesday Jul 03, 2018. 09:05
A week ago Nigeria were preparing for their final Group D match of the 2018 World Cup and feeling confident that a place in the last 16 was theirs for the taking.
The Super Eagles knew that a draw against Argentina at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg would likely be enough to secure progression, while a win would guarantee it.
And while Nigeria had lost all four of their previous World Cup matches against the ‘Albiceleste’, they could take huge confidence from a 4-2 win over the South American giants in a friendly in Russia in November last year.
Instead, with just four minutes in the match remaining and with the score locked at 1-1, Marcos Rojo popped up unmarked in the box to sweep home a right-flank cross and secure a 2-1 victory for Argentina.
The decisive goal could be traced back to a simple lack of marking on the part of the Super Eagles – somehow it ended up being Victor Moses, Nigeria’s right winger, trying to track the centre-back who had gone forward, when he should have been picked up by either the midfield or one one of their three centre-backs.
Yet Nigeria’s real problem was a poor start to the tournament, with their 2-0 loss to Croatia in Kaliningrad meaning they were always trying to play catch-up.
And the most frustrating aspect of the defeat to ‘The Blazers’ was Gernot Rohr’s tactical mistakes. Had the Super Eagles played a back three (as they did in the build-up to the tournament), deployed John Obi Mikel deep in midfield instead of as a number 10, and utilised the speed of Ahmed Musa, things may have turned out very differently.
Yet, with the youngest squad of all 32 nations at the final, there is huge promise for this Nigerian team. Yes, mistakes were made and Russia 2018 must still be viewed as a massive missed opportunity, but Super Eagles fans can still rest assured that a bright future lies ahead.