The Super Eagles face already-qualified Argentina in Porto Alegre with a first appearance in the last 16 since 1998 tantalisingly within the grasp of the African champions.
Our team of analysts returns to discuss what is now becoming a World Cup rivalry.
Which approach should Stephen Keshi adopt against Argentina?
Bless Ekene (BE): Why would the team kill themselves for a win when we know that taking it easy and defending a draw would send us through? There is no need to scream collusion when both teams are playing not to lose, rather than playing to win. It is certainly a viable tactic, one seen in all of sports and games in general. Chess is a great example. Sometimes the best way to beat your opponent is simply to play for a draw. I hope they play a relaxed, 0-0 draw and both go on to play in the next round.
If I was to advise the coach, I’ll tell him to be cautious, as we only need a draw to qualify. We might throw caution out of the window and get beaten, and then Iran will end up beating Bosnia. There is absolutely no shame in playing for a draw as far as we get the desired outcome of moving to the next round. I know some people will think it’s better we beat Argentina in order to avoid France, but I think we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. Our goal is to make the round of 16, and we should not forget that.
Adegoke Adelabu (AA): Nigeria can take advantage of any space left by Argentina. But there is nothing about game plan; you saw the way we played after we scored. Osaze was just losing the ball and I did not see any structure in the team. Nigeria could be dangerous on individual basis, so anything can happen. I don’t think there will be any problem as to who qualifies. There will be clear winners and we should be able to go through. Our defence is so porous that Argentina does not need Messi to score; they have sufficient fire power in the attack. We have attackers who are better as individuals rather than as playing as a team. The Argentine pattern of play may favour our team, but we are likely to lose concentration as often as possible.
Sunday Omeike (SO): After a spirited display against Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Super Eagles coaching crew led by the Big Boss Stephen Keshi would be looking to go all out for a win due to a few reasons. Chief among these is the possibility of drawing lots if Nigeria lose 1-0 and Iran defeat Bosnia by a similar scoreline. Another major positive, which should spur the team on to defeat La Albiceleste, is the fact that the South American giants have been underwhelming in the tournament. Bosnia pushed them all the way while lowly Iran held them for 90 minutes before a moment of magic bailed them out. With the fate of our qualification for the round-of-16 still in our hands, an attacking approach should be adopted, as the Argentine defence has shown against Bosnia and at some moments in the Iran game that it can be easily breached.
BE: For starters, benching Yobo should be the first step in the mission to stop Messi. I have no problem with the guy and I think he has served Nigeria very well. However, if you take a critical look at our match against Bosnia, you’ll observe something: Osaze seemed to be playing at right back. Do you know why? Because of Yobo. Efe had to move to the centre of our defence to help out Yobo, with Osaze now taking up his own duties. Against someone like Messi, or a team like Argentina, you dare not play with a liability. We need every man on the pitch against Argentina to do their job and anyone who needs help should give way.
Also, Mikel has to step up his game. He is neither contributing to attack nor defence. I was mortified to see him stroll whenever we lost possession against Bosnia. I think Keshi should have a word with him because his experience is needed in protecting our back-four. I think he should just go back to the way he plays for Chelsea and stop trying to be Jay Jay that we all know he has lost the chance to be.
SO: The fall of Barcelona Empire has shown Messi up, no thanks to some rigid defensive counter-attacking styles adopted by oppositions. Man marking the 26-year-old four-time Ballon d’Or winner is not an option; however, denying him that crucial space between the defence and midfield is what stifles his play and makes him anonymous on the pitch. If Keshi needs a template, all the games involving Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid and Barcelona is the go-to archive. The Argentina captain and leader did not score a goal against the new La Liga Champions in seven encounters and was anonymous in almost all of them. When on the defensive front, two banks of fours in defence and midfield should be ever-present with little or no space in-between, while placing Emenike on stand-by for the ensuing counter attack when Argentina’s attacks are broken down. Osaze Odemwingie did a yeoman’s job in covering for Efe Ambrose against Bosnia, and a similar showing would be needed against Argentina. The major problem envisaged is the bulk of space always visible between John Obi Mikel and Onazi Ogenyi. This would need to be narrowed, while Mikel’s dallying on the ball should be reduced for swifter counter-attack.
SO: Not at all. The Bosnians will definitely fight for pride. Therefore, I do not see them doing a ‘parley’ with the Iranians who still harbour a faint hope of making the last 16. Similarly, the Argentines have qualified, but will still need to grab at least a point to ensure they top the group and avoid a stronger opposition in the next round, while Nigeria would be looking to avoid defeat. Due to this being the last games of the group, the level of competitiveness could be reduced. However, so much is at stake for all teams involved, and surprises could be on the cards.
BE: I don’t see that happening. Nonetheless, my fear isn’t FIFA drawing a lot, my fear is Nigeria losing by more than a goal. That’s why I earlier advised we just play for a draw.
AA: I have told you that there will be outright winners. There will be no head to head. We need the strength of character on the side of Eagles.
What’s your prediction?
BE: I’ll predict a 1-0 win for Argentina but I hope the guys prove me wrong. I have a feeling our progress will depend on the Iran game.
SO: It is getting much more difficult by the day to predict a World Cup game, therefore I wouldn’t predict anything. However, I would definitely root for the Super Eagles to put up a good showing and possibly cause an upset against an average Argentina side which is only being dragged along by Lionel Messi’s genius.
The South Americans will look for the first place in the Group F, while the Eagles want to ensure their place in the round of 16.
Argentina are at the top of Group F with six points, two more than Nigeria and five more than Iran, so they are already qualified for the round-of-16. They can afford a draw against Nigeria in order to finish at the first position and face the second-placed team in Group E, which should be Ecuador or Switzerland.
If they lose against the Eagles, they’ll finish in second place and in that case, it’s almost guaranteed that they would face France in the next stage, since Les Blues have a goal average far better than their group opponents and it’s highly improbable that they don’t finish at the first position.
On the other hand, Nigeria need a draw against Argentina in order to finish at the second place and qualify for the round-of-16, while a victory over the South Americans will guarantee a first position.
If the Eagles lose against Argentina and Iran defeats Bosnia-Herzegovina, the goal average (or goals scored in case of a tie) will decide whether Iran or Nigeria pass the group stage, with a curious fact: since Nigeria tied against Iran in the first match, if Argentina defeat Nigeria with difference of one goal and Iran beat Bosnia-Herzegovina with the same result, both teams would have the same amount of scored and conceded goals, and the definition of the second place would be a drawing of lots by the FIFA Organising Committee.
Argentina will be looking to defeat Nigeria to reign supreme in Group F.
This will be the fourth meeting of both countries at a FIFA World Cu, and Argentina won the previous three.
Nigeria have registered just one win in six previous attempts against Argentina in all competitions (D1 L4).
Nigeria have never won against a South American team at the World Cup (L4).
Argentina have mustered just eight goals across the six matches played against Nigeria; an average of 1.3 per game.
Argentina have won 11 and lost just one of their last 14 World Cup group games (D2), scoring 27 and conceding just five in total in this run.
Lionel Messi has scored eight goals in his last seven appearances for Argentina.
Argentina are looking to win all three group games at a World Cup, as they managed in 2010 under Diego Maradona.
Nigeria won their first World Cup game in 10 outings against Bosnia-Herzegovina (D3 L6).
The Super Eagles have now gone 221 minutes without conceding a World Cup goal.
Since losing their first game against African opposition at the World Cup (Cameroon in 1990), Argentina have won their last four from sides from that continent.
What the Eagles say
He (Messi) is one of the best players in the world and everybody knows it and he has really made a lot of progress from when we last played each other. Like I said earlier, it might not be a game between me and him, but between Nigeria and Argentina. Everyone is talking about Messi, but there is Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, Angel di Maria. There are a whole lot of players. That is what matters; we are going to stop the team of Argentina not Messi. Messi is a genius and one of the greatest players football has produced but you can’t rule out other players. – Vincent Enyeama
Messi is a normal human being, a football player. Of course, we have to strategise and make our plans to ensure we get things done [against Argentina]. We improved on our passes in our second game and made sure we did everything. The coach gave me some instructions to do and I had to do it. I am the one who is in charge of midfield and I had to calculate how to move forward. We’re taking every game step-by-step. No one gave us a chance and we are not ready to say much, we want to go step by step. – Ogenyi Onazi
We have a resilient defence, a creative midfield, and with our attack line we could bring problems to any defence in the world. – Osaze Odemwingie
I expect an exciting and difficult game, but we will do everything to get a result. – Joseph Yobo
We are prepared, mentally and physically, and looking forward to the game against Argentina. – Ramon Azeez
A draw will be okay for us, but we will fight like wounded lions. – Babatunde Michael
We have not come to the World Cup to run away or shy away from any team. Any team that comes against us, we have to play our football. If it so be that we might fall in the same group as France after this game, so be it. We are here to enjoy what we know how to do, and that is play football; and that is what we will do. – Stephen Keshi