Nigeria are in a must-win situation against giant-slayers, Iceland who seem unfazed by any opponent they come up against.
Their 1-1 draw with Argentina showed their calmness and belief despite going behind, and against Nigeria, they would show similar traits, although they would attack more.
The Super Eagles, on the other hand, looked ordinary in their 2-0 loss to Croatia and would need a massive improvement.
Here, we look at three things to expect from our beloved team which could keep us in a tournament that has already claimed two African nations – Morocco and Egypt.
Iwobi in a central role
Chief among what coach Gernot Rohr should do is return Alex Iwobi to a central role to maraud the proverbial ‘hole’ behind the striker.
Against Croatia, captain Mikel Obi could be seen further forward as the playmaker, while Alex Iwobi was on the wing. Without service and Modric and co. dominant, he did more defending than usual and was uncomfortable all night, getting hooked as Nigeria sought a route back from two goals down.
The 22-year old Arsenal attacking midfielder plays best when running with the ball towards the centre to create chances and/or exchange passes with the wingers and other players for both club and country. He did damage against Zambia from this position, scoring the goal that took us to Russia 2018, and prior to the tournament, his pace and direct dribbles through the centre troubled England all night. Therefore, the technical team should return Nigeria’s best attacking threat to his preferred position to wreck havoc on Iceland.
Aside from starting Iwobi centrally and a return to a deep-lying playmaker role for Mikel, the Super Eagles’ major headache is the full-back positions, especially right back. The majority of chances created by Croatia – and indeed, other opponents before the World Cup – have come from full-back positions, especially through Shehu Abdullahi’s right back position. Although both Abdullahi and Bryan Idowu were poor in the first game, the former’s wing has proven problematic in recent games. ADO Den Haag’s Tyronne Ebuehi has impressed in his few games at right back and his attacking threat should be considered in this must-win game.
Furthermore, William Troost-Ekong has looked subdued in recent matches and he was at fault for the two goals conceded against Croatia. The Bursaspor of Turkey defender has been slow in reading the game and lacked concentration in recent games, and is therefore due a bench rest. In his place, Kenneth Omeruo, the no-nonsense former Chelsea trainee who was impressive in the England friendly should be given another chance to prove his return to form, especially with a tricky, ice-cold Iceland team against whom height (expect lots of crosses), and concentration will be key.
Need for Plan B
When England ran the Super Eagles ragged in the first half of last month’s friendly, the technical bench tweaked the set-up to stop the English from overrunning our defence, changing to a three-man backline of Ogu, Omeruo and Troost-Ekong to good effect, and we pulled a goal back. However, the technical team did not change the system even though they changed personnel against Croatia, sticking to a 4-3-3 system. Croatia continued to attack through the wings and the Leon Balogun-led defence was overworked in the centre, with three players always available for a cut-back or cross.
It would be more desirable to start with a 3-5-2 system to counter Iceland’s system. However, if Rohr starts with his preferred 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 system, preferably the 3-5-2 system with Moses and Ebuehi as wing backs and Iwobi behind both Kelechi Iheanacho and Odion Ighalo.
Side note: Vuvuzelas and the Mexican wave are staple World Cup items, a new addition is Iceland’s Viking Clap. Fans from the tiny European nation made it a beloved item at Euro 2016 and fans in the stadium joined them during and after their game against Argentina. The Viking Clap is here to stay.