When the draws for the World Cup were made in December, I had my reservations about my country paired in the same group with Argentina (yet again), Croatia and Iceland. For some reason, these folks at FIFA always find a way to pair my nation with the Argentines and we’ve always had bad sets of results against them. All I could do was to remain hopeful when it was time for the World Cup proper.
The warm up friendlies didn’t inspire any confidence with losses to England, Serbia and Czech Republic but the first game of the World Cup was really poor as the Nigerians put up a torrid show against Croatia. Luca Modric and Ivan Rakitic ran the show expectedly but losing to an own goal and a penalty didn’t inspire any confidence.
Then there was the second game against Iceland that came with a change in formation, which also changed the teams fortunes for the better. Two goals from Ahmed Musa put those Vikings to the sword and with Argentina suffering an embarrassing loss to Croatia, the stage was set for an all or nothing encounter when Nigeria locked horns with Argentina. I had a hunch that Croatia will be too much for Iceland, despite their comfortable position in the group, so the Croat manager opted to rest a host of his key players, giving the second string side a shot at a World Cup finals game.
To Nigeria, the mission was straightforward – avoid defeat from an Argentina side bereft of confidence and a date with France beckoned in the Round of 16. Not too hard a task, so we hoped.
Early on, a sensational pass from Ever Banega (I hope you’re watching Unai) set Lionel Messi through on goal and he had a lot to do, controlling the ball to perfection before slotting it past our young goalie with his right foot. Kenneth Omeruo’s defending was questionable but hey it’s Omeruo of Kasimpasa, not the Varanes or Thiago Silvas of this world. Francis Uzoho had to make himself big to deny the big game bottler, Gonzalo Higuain, and received a whack on the head for his troubles.
The wind sailed to the Super Eagles side when VAR was used to determine that Javier Mascherano scythed Leon Balogun in the box. Victor Moses stepped up and dispatched the spot kick brilliantly and the momentum was with Nigeria. Football, as we all know is a game of taking chances when you get them – that’s why many Nigerians are very disgusted and disappointed with Odion Ighalo at the moment. He had such a shocker in the opening game against Croatia that cost him his place in the second game. However, Kelechi Iheanacho’s shite fest in the first half allowed the manager, Gernot Rohr, to draft Ighalo in his stead. The China based striker had two glorious opportunities to put his name on the back pages of every sports column today but he fluffed his chances, turning himself into a petulant baby that required bis captain to calm him down.
Late on, Marcos Rojo drifted forward and latched onto a Mercedo cross to place the ball past Uzoho and take his country into the knockout round, breaking Nigerian hearts.
But that’s football for you.
As expected from every tournament, which includes the World Cup of course, there will be some routine results, some nerve racking one and everyone’s favorite, the upsets.
This World Cup has had its fair share of upsets with Mexico defeating world champions, Germany, that sent shock waves around the world. With Argentina drawing their first game against Iceland, it was going to be an interesting encounter against a Croatia side that had three points in the bag following their victory over my Nigeria, so it was an all-or-nothing for both sides.
The eyes of the world were on Lionel Messi and we expected him to come to the party following his sub standard showing against Iceland. Croatia actually matched them pound for pound but unlike IR Iran that rolled over and played dead for Spain, Croatia played their football and got rewarded for their efforts when Argentina’s Willy Caballero fluffed his clearance to allow Rebic smash the net to put Croatia ahead. At this level, it was quite embarrassing.
At one down, I expected the Argentines to push forward and take the game by the scruff of its neck but the better chances still went to Croatia. The second goal from their captain, Luka Modric, was quite magical. He whizzed his way past a couple of markers before blasting a piledriver past the hapless Caballero in goal. Ivan Rakitic almost added insult to injury when his free kick clipped the cross bar but Croatia got their third goal of the night when a defensive lapse allowed Mateo Kovacic to tee Rakitic who guided the ball into the net to make it 3-0.
With this result, Argentina will be hoping for Nigeria to do them a favor against Iceland, as a win for the Super Eagles will but the group in the balance for the last match day. With two wins from two, Croatia is assured of qualification so their manager can afford to take his foot off the pedal in the last game against Iceland.
That’s the World Cup for you, but hey, don’t cry 3 me Argentina.