Nigeria’s 2018 World Cup campaign began with a 0-2 loss to Croatia on Saturday but Coach Gernot Rohr believes his wards still have the chance to reach the knockout stage with two matches still to play in Group D.
Andrej Kramaric’s slight touch from a corner kick was inadvertently diverted into the Super Eagles’ net by hard –working Oghenekaro Etebo in the 32nd minute, and Captain Luka Modric swept past goalkeeper Francis Uzoho in the 72nd minute to confirm the Croatian win in Kaliningrad.
The Eagles stood up to their opponents from eastern Europe for the most part of the game, but were undone again by their well –known soft underbelly – vulnerability from dead ball situation.
A corner kick in the 32nd minute caught the defence napping, and it was from another corner kick 40 minutes later that William Ekong was adjudged to have pinned down Mario Mandzukic before Referee Sandro Ricci awarded a penalty kick to take the wind out of the Eagles’ sails.
It was a balanced game for large swathes of the encounter watched by 31,146 spectators, but Victor Moses, Nigeria’s top scorer in the qualifying race and the man expected to come up with the runs to unsettle the opposition rear, was caught down in flight most of the time.
Odion Ighalo was thus largely isolated upfront without ammunition, and despite several dead ball advantages of their own, the three –time African champions could not make hay.
However, Coach Gernot Rohr said at the post match conference that with Argentina and Iceland playing to a 1-1 draw in the earlier match of the group, Nigeria can still reach the Round of 16 if the Eagles defeat Iceland in Volgograd on Friday and get a draw against the Argies in Saint Petersburg four days later.
“We feel bad to have lost, as any team that loses would naturally feel. But if we defeat Iceland and draw with Argentina, we can still progress. The two teams are only a point better than us presently and we believe that qualification for the knockout rounds is still very much possible.”
The Eagles returned to their team base camp in Essentuki on Sunday, and would continue preparation for the Friday clash with Iceland immediately.
At the match in Kaliningrad to support the Super Eagles was a strong Nigeria Government team led by the Ambassador of Nigeria to Russia, His Excellency Professor Steve Davies Ugbah, and Youth and Sports Development Minister, Barrister Solomon Dalung as well as Nigeria’s IOC Member and NOC President Habu Ahmed Gumel. There were also Members of the NFF Executive Committee and Management, a few former NFF Board members, Directors in the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, a number of stakeholders and a large number of media representatives.
Before the match, the dignitaries visited the Super Eagles at their Hotel Mercure in Kaliningrad, and President Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR) also spoke to the players before they left for the match venue.