By Nnamdi Ezekute in Russia:
Super Eagles captain Mikel Obi has expressed the belief that the three-time African champions are among the favourites to win the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which kicks off in Russia on Thursday, Completesportsnigeria.com reports.
He also tipped Argentina with Lionel Messi as a top contender for the World Cup in Russia.
Mikel, who spoke during a press conference in Essentuki before the Super Eagles departure for Kaliningrad where they will face Croatia on Saturday, warned that the Super Eagles should not be judged by their poor results in their pre-World Cup friendlies.
“It’s a good time to try all of that. We know how we play. We know what we can give. We just need to focus more on the tournament,” Mikel began.
“We want to be Nigeria,we want to play our way and obviously we want to do that on Saturday. Now is the business time and we have to switch.
“I think we want to start from the blast of the whistle. We want to go in for every tackle and win every balls and dictate and control the game.
“This is how we play. We don’t want to wait for the second half. This is something we have spoken about and we want to improve on it. We can do better from from the first half of the game and we hope that we can start well in this tournament.”
On Saturday’s game against Croatia, Mikel admitted that they are a good team and it won’t be easy going against the fantastic players in the Vatreni side.
“There’s no easy team in this world Cup. We know that. Croatia is a team with fantastic players.
“Its going to be a difficult game. It’s going to be a game of tactics. But we have to make sure we control the game.
“It’s going to be tough we know how we play and we will carry on playing that way.”
The captain also added that the Super Eagles will benefit well from the reputation of the two Nigerian players plying their trade in the Russian League.
Ahmed Musa and Bryan Idowu are the two players in the Super Eagles squad playing in Russia Premier League with CSKA Moscow and Amkar Perm.
“Musa has been playing here for a long time and he’s back. For him (Musa) he needs the playing time. It was good for him to return to Russia.
“Now he’s back and playing regularly and he’s scoring goals.
“He’s in better form and better shape and that will help us a lot. We are happy that the players playing in Russia will help us a lot.
“Maybe we can have more fans to support us. Everything is a plus for us and we hope to capitalize on those pluses.
He also praised Gernot Rohr for his great impact on the team since he was appointed two years ago.
“No disrespect to other coaches that have been there. The difference is clear. People can see the togetherness in the team, the unity.
“He (Rorh) brought in a lot of discipline and you can see the friendliness in the team. I think we lacked a bit of it.
“We have to be together and stick together and maybe we can achieve something together.
The 31-year old had time for some wisecracks when asked which teams are the favourites for the World Cup.
“Nigeria of course are among the favorites,” Mikel laughed.
“We are underdogs and we believe that will motivate us to do well in Russia.
“All we need to do is to continue to be together in good or bad times. Football is not all about winning. Hopefully we can achieve something great in the tournament.
And he praised Argentine captain Lionel Messi who he considers to be from outer space because of his prodigious talent.
“I think every team is favourites (to win) but obviously if you have to say there’s one footballer who is not from this planet. I love to give credit to whom it’s due.
“Messi is one of the greatest players in the world so Argentina with him are one of the favourites.”
Nigeria and Argentina will battle Croatia and Iceland for the chance to be among the two teams who will move to the next round of the competition from Group D.