BY KUNLE SOLAJA, MOSCOW.
Will the Super Eagles break jinx and score against Croatia on Saturday? This Wednesday, it is 20 years since the Nigerian Super Eagles last scored in their opening match of the World Cup. At the France ’98 World Cup, coming as underdogs having lost all their pre-tournament matches including a whopping 5-1 loss to The Netherlands, Super Eagles unexpectedly put up a superlative performance, scoring three goals against Spain, then tipped as one of the pre-tournament favourites.
It appeared it was a tradition carried over from USA ’94 when the team scored three goals in an opening match.
That ended the story. In successive opening matches of Nigeria at the World Cup the team, the best opening result Nigeria has had in an opening match was the barren draw with Iran four years ago.
Not only that the Super Eagles have not won any opening match since, the situation is compounded by the fact that the team had not scored in successive opening matches.
Sunday Oliseh on this day in 1998 celebrates what has turned to be Nigeria’s last goal of a World Cup opening match.
In 2002, it was a lone goal defeat by Argentina, followed by another lone goal defeat to same team at South Africa 2010. Four years ago, even against Iran that was perceived as the weakest side of the Nigerian group, the Super Eagles played goalless.
It is against this background that the Super Eagles will be facing Croatia in their opening Group D match in Kaliningrad. Will the 20-year tradition of not winning an opening match prevail?
Will the Super Eagles break 20-year jinx of not winning an opening game at the World Cup? Will the match with Croatia also end the team’s goal-drought in opening games?
These are the posers ahead of the destiny-shaping encounter with Croatia in Kaliningrad. The team on Thursday leaves their Essentuki Base Camp for the match venue of their Saturday opening match, Kaliningrad.