Argentina down, but Super Eagles must win next two – Ikpeba
Argentina’s shock defeat to Croatia in their second game throws open the chances for Nigeria to qualify from Group D of the ongoing Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup but Nigerian ex-international, Victor Ikpeba, warns that the only way Nigeria can take advantage of the open field is to make sure to defeat Iceland in Volgograd on Friday and Argentina in St Petersburg in the final group game.
It was a bad dream for the Argentines when after the break in Novograd, Croatia changed gear and pressed harder the throttle for Ante Rebic to open the goal flood in the 53rd minute while Luca Modric doubled their trouble in the 80th minute.
A visibly angry and frustrated Argentina with Lionel Messi lost in the game struggled to see if it can salvage any hope but Ivan Rakitic gave them the final stab with a third goal at added time.
The result sees Croatia already in the second round with six points while Argentina and Iceland remain on the one point apiece from their 1-1 draw in the opening game. The Super Eagles of Nigeria are at the bottom of the table with no point following their 0-2 defeat to Croatia in the opener but Nigerians are excited that the fall of Argentina to Croatia means Nigeria remains strongly in contest for the second ticket from the group.
Ikpeba however has cautioned that while the group is open, the Super Eagles should be aiming to pick maximum six points from their remaining two games against Iceland and Argentina, rather than be thinking of any draw on the way or four points as Coach Gernot Rohr had suggested.
“It is good that it is still an open field but the fact remains that the Super Eagles have no point yet while Argentina and Iceland have a point each. It is open not only for Nigeria but also for the others too and the only way to take the second ticket is to win our two games,” Ikpeba pointed out.
“With their one point edge, Iceland will be fired against us seeing that they have a chance too with Argentina’s fall. We must clearly beat them because they will be playing an already qualified Croatia in their final group game and Croatia may not take that match seriously. They might rest their key players to prepare for the second round and that might give Iceland an easy day.
“Our final game against Argentina might be very difficult. They are wounded and will be playing for pride, to at avoid the disgrace of not winning a game at the World Cup. People are saying they will be demoralized but I don’t see it that way. They have one point and whatever happens between Nigeria and Iceland, they will be seeking maximum points too against us to see if four points can possibly qualify them. Given this scenario, our focus should be to do everything possible to win the two games,” he advised.
Talking about doing everything possible, the NFF is satisfied that it has provided the best conditions, including arranging quality preparatory matches and settling all funding matters, and the onus lies on the players and the technical squad to perform.
Added to the standard provisions to the team, NFF President Amaju Pinnick says they have continued to further motivate the players.
“We did everything to provide them the best conditions to perform but this is football and the result against Croatia went that way. Our job is not to get into the field and play. We are however working with the players and the technical crew to correct identified weaknesses but we can only rob minds and suggest, the final decision rests with the coach and the ultimate act rests with the players. I am happy that they understand this and are even more concerned to double efforts to make Nigerians happy with better performance and qualification to the next round.”
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