Former Nigerian World Cup star Augustine Eguavoen has highlighted the things Nigeria’s Super Eagles must do if they hope to emerge from their World Cup group when the Mundial gets underway in just over six months in Russia.
Three times African champions Nigeria were drawn in Group D at Friday’s draws in Moscow alongside 1986 winners Argentina, Croatia and Iceland. It is the fifth time in their six World Cup participation that Nigeria will be drawn against the Seleçion.
Eguavoen who featured in two World Cup tournaments (1994 and 1998) as a player and one (2010) as part of the coaching crew spoke extensively to ACLSports on Nigeria’s group.
Balance of the draws
“It’s a good draw, it’s not bad,” began Eguavoen to www.aclsports.com
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“In anything you do in life, you need the element of luck to play a role. World Cup is a different ball game completely and the first game is always key. If we’re able to start well and get good result against Croatia, then we’ll go through.
“But if we don’t get a good result against Croatia then we might have a problem. But with the calibre of players we have right now, I think we are capable of doing something,” said Eguavoen who made five World Cup appearances for Nigeria.
On facing two Europeans
The composition of Nigeria’s Group in Russia is something very familiar to Eguavoen. Just like in the 1994 and 1998 editions where Eguavoen played for Nigeria, the Super Eagles have been drawn against two European teams and one from South America.
In those two editions, Nigeria defeated the two European teams in their groups while losing to the South American teams (Argentina and Paraguay). Eguavoen, having featured in both losses and two of the victories gave an insight into facing such teams.
“As a player, there is nothing special or there is no different way of approach or motivation against European or South American team. The only thing is that we take the game the way it comes. We played in Europe as at that time, and now, most of the boys about 99% of our boys, if not 99% are playing in Europe right now”.
“These are people they rub shoulders with week-in, week-out, year-in, year-out, so we know them, I’ll also say they know us but I think we know more of them so maybe that’s the small advantage we have (against the Europeans),” added the former Super Eagles manager.
On playing Argentina last
Statistically, out of the four times Nigeria have been drawn against Argentina at the World Cup finals, the Eagles have a 100% qualifying ratio whenever they avoid the South Americans in their opening game (1994 and 2014).
However, it is directly opposite when Nigeria faced the Argentines in their opening fixtures as the Eagles failed to progress from the group stage after the losses to Argentina in 2002 and 2010.
“If we look at it, there are no minnows in football anymore but respect should be given to those who deserve it,” a candid Eguavoen noted.
“When it comes to World football, we can’t say we beat Argentina 4-2 (in a friendly) and then we’re at par with Argentina, it’s impossible. Let us not deceive ourselves.
“Neither will a team like Togo, with all due respect say they’re at par with Nigeria, it’s impossible.”
“So, we owe Argentina that respect. If we play Argentina first and then we’re able to pull off a surprise and beat them like we did in the friendly, then it’s okay, all the confidence will come and we go on and beat other teams.”
“But if we’re able to play them last and play two European nations first, then we’re on the verge of already securing qualification into the second round. I’m not saying we are scared of Argentina but we should accord them some respect the same way teams like Benin Republic and Togo will accord Nigeria some respect.”
On Players mindset in World Cup year
Football as a contact sport has injuries as an integral part of it. World Cup teams (Nigeria inclusive) have in recent times had to make do without key players at the Mundial due to varying degree of injuries.
Ike Shorunmu and Jero Shakpoke (1998) Ayegbeni Yakubu (eye surgery, 2002), John Mikel Obi (2010) are some of Nigerian top stars who have missed recent World Cup finals due to injury.
But how does this shape the thoughts of players during the season in the build-up to a World Cup tournament?
“These (the players) are professionals!” Eguavoen affirmed.
“We pray for God to protect our players so that they’ll be fit for the World Cup but they have a job to do for their clubs”.
“If they do not put up a performance and get committed with their jobs, they might have problems with their managers, fans and the football team. I think they’re professionals and they won’t think along the line of playing safe for the World Cup.”
“They will do their best for their clubs and then carry the form into the World Championship. I don’t think anybody will play haphazard football for a team,” concluded the man nicknamed Cerezo.