Side Kick

Russia 2018: Let the games begin!


With Adebayo Olodan

Football aficionados across the globe will have their attention focused on events in Russia as the 2018 FIFA World Cup kick off today with 32 nations battling for honour.
Among the countries that are unlikely to win the most coveted trophy in the globe is Nigeria. The African most populous nation will be hoping to make history by surpassing their Round of 16 records this time having reached the stage in 1994, 1998 and 2014.
The Super Eagles have a difficult task at hand after being drawn last December in a Group D that includes Argentina, Croatia and Iceland. With Argentina the group favourite, Nigeria will likely battle it out with Croatia and Iceland for the second slot.
To stand any chance of advancing beyond the group stage of the tournament, the Super Eagles will need to up their game following the below par performances in their last three matches against Democratic Republic of Congo, England and Czech Republic. From the goal-keeping to attack, there is little to cheer about the team with the Eagles lacking coordination and struggling to defend and score goals.
It is more disheartening that Coach Gernot Rohr is yet to find his best formation and starting XI with few hours to our first match against Russia. However, on the arrival of the team in Krasnodar, Russia on Monday, the gaffer has assured that the team will be ready for Saturday’s match against Russia and like I suggested here last week, playing three centre backs will help protect our leaky defence.
Already the off the pitch issues such as match bonuses and allowances that affected the performance of the team in the past have been settled by the sports ministry and the Nigeria Football Federation and all that is left is for the boys to do their job on the pitch.
The Super Eagles must go all out for a victory against the Croats with Juventus forward, Mario Mandzukic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic likely to pose the biggest threat to our players.
Away from the Super Eagles, Brazil for me are the favourites for this tournament despite suffering humiliation against Germany four years ago when they hosted the tournament.
Sports foremost statistics platform, Opta also rates Brazil to win the competition with 13.3 per cent closely followed by Germany with 10.7 per cent and Argentina in third with 10.1 per cent.
In Group E, The Selecao as Brazil is known are yet again going to emerge the winner with Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia likely to cancel themselves out. Since 1982 World Cup, Brazil has maintained the record of emerging winners of their group.
Though the present squad is not as strong as the 2002 World Cup squad which boasts of four Ballon D’or winners in; Kaka, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, none the less, the Selecao may add to the five titles in Russia having emerged victorious in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002. No other country has won the World Cup five times.
Neymar has been in the form of his life while Willian, Phillipe Coutinho, Marcelo, Gabriel Jesus Roberto Firmino and Douglas Costa will trouble any defence. In fact it will be difficult if not impossible for the Selecao not to score in all their matches in Russia.
For Brazil to win the tournament, Tite will need one player to be at his best; Casemiro, the Real Madrid midfielder offer the right balance to the team as he allows Marcelo, Neymar Jnr, Jesus and Coutinho the freedom to attack the opposing goal. Another player that has shone brightly in the national team is Jesus with an imperious record of 10 goals and four assist in 17 matches.
Should Brazil fail to sparkle in Russia, Germany, France and Spain are the other teams that are likely to lift the trophy.
Defending champions, Germany will hope to make history as the first country to win the World Cup back to back since Brazil achieved that feat in 1962 and if you ask me, Joachim Low’s side are more than capable to attain that feat. The coach surprised many by winning the last Confederations Cup with a relatively young squad dominated by fringe players and now that he has the complement of his more experienced players, it will be difficult to stop the German machines in Russia.
For France, they boast of a very rich squad from defence to attack with Hugo Lloris in goal, Samuel Umtiti at the heart of defence and Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Nabil Fekil, Blasé Matuidi in midfield. Also in attack they have Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud and Karim Benzema to call on.
Interestingly, since Euro 1996, this will be the first time that France’s 23-man squad will have no player from Premier League club, Arsenal.

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