President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Mr. Amaju Melvin Pinnick is confident that mental strength, self –belief and youthfulness will serve the Super Eagles well at the 21st FIFA World Cup finals in Russia next year summer.
Speaking on the World Sport programme of the Cable News Network (CNN) from the station’s London studio on Monday, Pinnick, who is a Member of the CAF Executive Committee and President of AFCON, also commended the African body for its decision to support the continent’s five flagbearers’ preparations for Russia 2018 with much –needed cash.
“First and foremost, I must commend all the 32 qualified teams because they came from very intense qualifying campaigns. What will then matter at the finals in Russia are factors such as the quality of preparation by each team, the mental state of the players and prayers from back home.
“We are in a ‘decent group.’ Argentina have such a high pedigree and Croatia and Iceland are very good. Iceland reached the quarter –finals of the European Championship last year and topped their qualifying group, so there are no minnows in there.
“We are banking on good preparation and the belief that our young players have in themselves. I am also happy that CAF is weighing in with some good money ($500,000 each) to support the preparation of the African flag –bearers. I can also tell you that CAF is looking to see an African team in the semi –finals or even to go all the way to win the trophy.”
Pinnick said nobody gave the Super Eagles any chance of defeating Argentina in a friendly in Krasnodar 20 days ago.
“We have a coach who has the mentality of a winner, and he has imbibed the players with the same attitude. We can do very well at the World Cup in Russia. I am very delighted that we have a team for tomorrow; a team for the next (2022) World Cup finals.
“African players light up the English Premiership every weekend. Liverpool FC appear not to be able to do without Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, and Chelsea FC sometimes struggle without Victor Moses. We have bright prospects in Russia.”
Nigeria will trade tackles with two –time world champions and reigning world vice champions Argentina, Iceland and Croatia in Group D at Russia 2018.
Argentina have narrowly won all four previous FIFA World Cup clashes with Nigeria (all at group phase: 1994, 2002, 2010, 2014) but the Eagles have lashed the La Albiceleste in two prestige friendlies (2011 and 2014), while honours in two clashes in the final of the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament (1996 and 2008) have been shared.
Nigeria have never played Croatia – the small East European nation that shocked the world by winning bronze medals at her maiden FIFA World Cup appearance in 1998.
Nigeria and Iceland have met only once before in history – a friendly match in Reykjavik on 22nd August 1981 that the Strakarnir Okkar (Our Boys) won 3-0. It was part of the Eagles’ preparation for the final round of qualifiers for the 1982 FIFA World Cup, which they lost to Algeria home and away.
Incidentally, the two teams’ clash in Russia will also be on the twenty –second day of the month – 22nd June 2018 in Volgograd.
NIGERIA’S RUSSIA 2018 GROUP MATCHES
Croatia Vs Nigeria (Kaliningrad Stadium, 16th June, 9pm)
Nigeria Vs Iceland (Volgograd Arena, 22nd June, 6pm)
Nigeria Vs Argentina (Saint Petersburg Stadium, 26th June, 9pm)