By Kayode Ogundare:
Goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa has run the rule over Nigeria’s 2018 World Cup group D opponents and reckons that though it is a difficult group but he’s sure of qualification for the Super Eagles because of the players’ determination to excel.
“The World Cup is a very big deal. I have set my own targets for the competition and I’m sure this is true for the other players too. The sense of unity and discipline which we have now in the team, coupled with our individual targets, will propel us to success,” he began.
Ezenwa, who captained the Home Eagles to a runners-up spot at the African Nations Championship in Morocco said he’s already looking forward to the World Cup even as he recuperates from the injury sustained against Sudan in the semi-finals which subsequently knocked him out of the CHAN final.
In a television interview monitored in Lagos on Wednesday, the Enyimba of Aba goalkeeper expressed confidence that Nigeria will shock a lot of naysayers at the World Cup even if they do not have the competition pedigree of group rivals 1998 third-place finisher Croatia and two-time winner Argentina.
“Our first game is against Croatia and, I must confess, they are a very good side. I take my time to watch their players in their different clubsides. I watch (Luka) Modric in Real Madrid, (Ivan) Rakitic who’s another great player in Barcelona. I also watch Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic. I like to study the movement of their forward players on the ball. And, of course, I also study their goalkeeper (Danijel) Subasic. They have a very good team and its good that we are playing them first. That game will be key and we must do everything to win it,” he said.
Next up for the Super Eagles will be debutants Iceland and Ezenwa reckons the fact they are largely unknown could make them very dangerous.
He said: “Iceland are coming for the first time but they can be dangerous because not much is known about them. We however remember what they did at the Euro Championships in 2016. This means they have a very good squad. We just have to be careful and not underrate them. Hopefully, we would get a good result in the first game against Croatia and take the momentum into the second game against Iceland.”
The final group game will be against 1978 and 1986 World Cup champions Argentina who have become a sort of recurring decimal for the Super Eagles with the two team facing each other five times in Nigeria’s six appearances at the World Cup.
“We know Argentina’s pedigree and we know that they have always beaten Nigeria each time we meet at the World Cup. But we beat them 4-2 in that friendly in Russia last year and I’m sure that, beyond just the three points at stake, they will be boiling to avenge that loss. They are our final game and hopefully we would have qualified before we meet them but that does not mean we will roll on the ground for them. They have very accomplished players who are doing very well but I don’t want us to look down on our players too. We have guys who can give Argentina a good run and we shall certainly be ready.”
The 29-year old shot-stopper also commended the friendly games lined up for the team which he reckons will aid adequate preparations for the World Cup.