Counting down to Super Eagles opening game at the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup, Super Eagles mercurial midfielder and captain, Mikel Obi, has assured Nigerians of victory against Croatia and the determination of the team to qualify through the first round.
Mikel who spoke at the team’s base camp at Essentuki ahead of the opener at the Kaliningrad Stadium on Saturday, June 16, said having been given the best of preparations by the NFF, the team is focused on delivering, with Coach Gernot Rohr also assuring that the the players are 100% physically and mentally ready for action.
“We are here to prove ourselves. The attitude that saw us through a tough African qualifying group is still there, and looking at the boys, I have confidence that we will achieve our first objective of getting through the group stage. It is going to be about focus, about ambition and about perseverance. The confidence is there to go out and fulfill our pledge to the country. Everyone in this team is ambitious. The World Cup means a lot to everyone, and this is where to prove how good you are. No one wants to miss this opportunity,” Mikel declared.
The China based ex-Chelsea of England star said though the group which includes Argentina with Lionel Messi, Croatia and Iceland, is tough, they are well motivated to get the job done.
“This group is probably the toughest in the tournament. Everyone is calling it the ‘group of death’. That is the motivation. We have given ourselves the target of coming out of this group just like we did in the African qualifying group that everyone gave the same tag. We worked hard at both the camp in Austria and since we got to the team base camp in Essentuki. Our Football Federation also did well to get us to prepare in very good places devoid of distraction and now, it is our responsibility to do the nation proud by starting well against Croatia.”
In consonance with the captain, Super Eagles Technical Adviser, Gernot Rohr, assured that the squad is in the best possible condition to kick off the World Cup campaign on a note of victory.
“We are looking forward to the match with a lot of optimism. It will be a tough one, but we are physically and mentally ready. We had quality preparatory matches and trained twice at our final camp in Austria, and since arriving in Essentuki, we have done some useful tactical preparation. It is important to start well in a good tournament like this, and that is what we hope to do,” Rohr said.
Though Nigeria and Croatia have met twice in FIFA competitions, these were only at the junior level – at the 2011 U20 in which Nigeria handed them a 5-2 defeat and at the 2015 U17 tournament where Nigeria lost 1-2. The two countries are meeting for the first time at the senior World Cup.
Even as bookmakers tend to rate Croatia high against an African team especially going by their record of a 4-0 trouncing of Cameroon at the Brazil 2014 World Cup, Nigeria comes to the game with a more superior profile and with no inhibition, given that their five wins so far in the World Cup have been against European teams following their debut in 1994 with 3-0 and 2-0 victories over Bulgaria and Greece, 3-2 and 1-0 over Spain and Bulgaria again in 1998 and a 1-0 win over combined Bosnia and Hercegovina at the Brazil 2014 World Cup.
On the contrary, Croatia has always started its World Cup campaigns on a weak note with losses in three of its four opening games. Their only opening game victory was a 3-1 against Jamaica on their debut in 1998. After that, they lost 0-1 to Mexico in 2002, and 0-1, 1-3 to Brazil in Germany 2006 and Brazil 2014.