Nigeria captain Mikel John Obi believes his young side have enough mental and physical strength to face their opponents at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, starting with Croatia on Saturday.
The Super Eagles face Croatia, third at the 1998 World Cup in Kaliningrad with the Africans ranked outsiders after a run of poor friendly results prior to the tournament.
Nigeria boast of the youngest squad of all the thirty two teams in Russia with an average age of 25 years and 337 days. Mikel, the most capped player in the side hopes that will be a plus for the team.
“Hopefully, we can achieve a lot of things in this tournament with this young side mixed with a little bit of experience,” begun Mikel at the official pre-match press conference on Friday.
“We have a very good mix, a very good blend and hopefully things will work out well for us.”
Nigeria’s opponents on Saturday, Croatia have in their lineup some of Europe’s finest footballers. Luka Modric is a serial Champions League winner with Real Madrid, Ivan Rakitic has enjoyed with Barcelona while Mario Mandzukic shines in Juventus colours.
Mikel is unfazed by the big names though and insists his team must focus on themselves.
“I don’t want to talk about the Croatian team. I think it’s better for us to focus on our team. It is the most important thing for us; to focus on ourselves.
“Yes, (they are a) great team, the Croatian team, (with) great players but come on Saturday it’s eleven against eleven. We have to play. They like to have the ball, we also like to, so it’s going to be an interesting game,” added Mikel.
In recent friendly matches, Nigeria have grown better into second half of matches, most notably against England in London. The former Chelsea star believes the youthfulness of his team may count in their favour in the closing stages of Saturday’s game.
“We will see what happens. They have a good team, we have a good team. We have a younger team so maybe that’s going to help us towards the end of the game,” said Mikel.
The Group D clash will commence at 9pm local time, 8pm in Nigeria on Saturday night.