BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
Carles Puyol of Spain picked the ball from Pot 4 and it was Nigeria, pitching the country with the usual World Cup foes, Argentina! And so, for the fifth time in six World Cup finals, Nigeria will play Argentina.
This is the high point of the World Cup draws held Friday night at State Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. Sports Village Square had earlier predicted that Argentina and Overall, it will be the ninth clash of both teams as they had also met in last month in a friendly friendly match in Russia.
Nigeria won 4-2. Both teams are Group D, the same both team drew in their first encounter in USA. As in Brazil 2014, the Nigeria versus Argentina match will be the last group match.
The other teams in the group are Iceland and Croatia. Nigeria had played Iceland in the ancient past, 1981 in the days of Segun Odegbami and Muda Lawal. Nigeria has never met Croatia before.
The Super Eagles will open their World Cup account on June 16 at Kaliningrad with Croatia. That will be followed with the game with Iceland on June 22 at Volgograd before a potentially explosive game with Argentina at Saint Petersburg on June 26, a day after the 24th anniversary of their first ever meeting in Boston.
World Cup encounters with Argentina have always been won by the odd goal by the South Americans. The score line was 2-1 in 1994, 1-0 in 2002 and 2010 while that of Brazil 2014 was 3-2.
BEHOLD NIGERIA’S 2018 WORLD CUP FOES
- Argentina are competing in their 17th FIFA World Cup and have qualified for 11 consecutive editions starting with Germany 1974.
- The only player to score a hat-trick in two different editions is Argentina’s Gabriel Batistuta, who hit a treble against Greece in 1994 and another three against Jamaica in 1998.
- Argentina’s haul of 19 goals in the South American World Cup preliminaries is the lowest goal return by a qualifying team since the tournament first adopted the single-group format ahead of the 1998 finals.
- No team has been involved in as many World Cup penalty shoot-outs as Argentina, who have contested five and won four of them.
- With his three strikes against Ecuador in the decisive last qualifier for Russia 2018, Lionel Messi became the all-time joint-leading scorer in the South American Zone preliminary competition with 21 goals alongside Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, both players having overtaken Hernan Crespo’s career total of 19. Messi’s hat-trick was also the second by an Argentinian in World Cup qualification, after Gonzalo Higuain struck three times against Chile in 2011.
- Since making their tournament bow in France ’98, Croatia have only failed to qualify for the 2010 edition and will be making their fifth World Cup trophy bid in Russia.
- After finishing third in 1998, Croatia were eliminated in the group round during their next three participations. Davor Suker was the tournament’s top scorer in France with six goals.
- Four goals were scored in each of Croatia’s last four World Cup games. The results were a 2-2 draw with Australia in 2006, followed in 2014 by a 3-1 loss to Brazil, a 4-0 win over Cameroon and a 3-1 defeat by Mexico.
- For the third time in five qualifications, Croatia have reached the World Cup via the play-off route. The Vatreni overcame Ukraine ahead of the 1998 edition, beat Iceland to reach the 2014 finals and thwarted Greece to secure their place in the 2018 tournament.
- Having struck five times on the road to Russia 2018, Mario Mandzukic is the all-time leading Croatian scorer in qualifying, with ten goals, surpassing Bosko Balaban’s career tally of seven.
- Mandzukic previously found the net once in the 2010 preliminaries and four times on the 2014 trail. With three goals in the 6-0 rout of Kosovo, Mandzukic became the second Croatian to bag a hat-trick in qualifying, after Balaban was on target three times in 2001 during the 4-1 victory over Latvia.
- Iceland are one of two newcomers in the 2018 edition of the World Cup, the other being Panama. The islanders are the 34th European team to take part in the finals, after Bosnia and Herzegovina who debuted four years ago in Brazil.
- Not counting Iceland’s third-placed finish in the Youth Olympic Football Tournament in Nanjing in 2014, Strcikamir okkar are making their debut in the finals of a FIFA competition. The senior side reached the quarterfinals of the UEFA European Championship 2016, also in their maiden campaign.
- Iceland have played 106 World Cup qualifiers and won 28. Seven of those successes, or 25% of the total, came in the ten-match qualification push for Russia 2018.
- The islanders’ five home matches (all won) en route to Russia 2018 were played at the Laugardalsvollur stadium in Reykjavik, which has hosted every one of Iceland’s 51 home games in the history of World Cup qualification.
- Gylfi Sigurdsson was Iceland’s top scorer in qualification for Russia 2018, netting four goals, and is now his country’s all-time second-highest marksman in the preliminary tournament with eight goals overall, three behind Eidur Gudjohnsen. With his two goals against Ukraine on September 5, 2017, Sigurdsson became the only Icelander to net a brace in two different qualifying campaigns, having bagged the first in March 2013 during the 2-1 victory away to Slovenia.