Quickly read this before Eagles Play Croatia

Nigeria will kick off their 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign against Croatia in Kaliningrad today.

KweséESPN lists a couple of things to consider regarding the Super Eagles’ previous five opening group stage games, including the latest opposition.

European dominance

Nigeria have faced European opponents in their opening FIFA World Cup group-stage matches twice previously – Bulgaria in 1994 and Spain in 1998.

On both occasions, the Nigerian teams coached by Europeans – Clemens Westerhof and Bora Milutinovic respectively – and emerged victorious. Can that be enough motivation for the present crop of Super Eagles, coached by German manager Gernot Rohr, to maintain that 100-percent record against Croatia?

Winless opening day streak

When Nigeria takes to the field against Croatia in Kaliningrad they will have to fix one wretched record. Not since Sunday Oliseh’s match-winning screamer against Spain in 1998 have the Super Eagles managed to secure an opening day win.

Heartbreak and disappointments have followed in subsequent years, as loses suffered against Argentina (2002 and 2010), and a goalless draw against Iran (2014) left Nigeria winless in their opening group games for two decades, and even more worrying, enduring a goal drought which culminates in an alarming 270 minutes.

Set piece worry

The Super Eagles have looked fragile at the back when defending set pieces in their build-up games, an aspect which the technical crew hopefully identified and worked on in their training camp in Austria recently.

This problem precedes the present team, as Nigeria have conceded four goals in their opening games in the previous five tournaments, three of those from set pieces. Fernando Hierro opened scoring for Spain at the 1998 World Cup directly from a free kick, while Argentina’s victories secured in 2002 and 2010 were courtesy two perfectly buried headers, from Gabriel Batistuta and Gabriel Heinze.

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