Nigeria vs Iceland: World Cup 2018 Match Preview
Argentina may have been among the five pre-tournament favourites to lift the World Cup trophy, but it was clear going into the competition that they had significant shortcomings – and many of those were confirmed in their opening game, a 1-1 draw with Iceland.
That result and the weaknesses it revealed leaves Group D wide open, with all three other teams in with a shout of qualifying for the round of 16.
Iceland were fantastic in their aforementioned stalemate with the two-time champions. They are a phenomenally well-organised team who make life extremely difficult for their opponents, with their compact defensive shape very tough to penetrate.
They also made sure they provided a threat on the counter-attack – conservative sides such as Egypt and Tunisia have failed in that aspect of an otherwise similar game plan – and looked to maximise attacking set-pieces, which have been so key in the World Cup up to now.
Nigeria disappointed against Croatia
Nigeria, conversely, were mightily disappointing in their first competitive tournament match since 2014 – they failed to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations in 2015 and 2017 – going down 2-0 to a Croatia team who barely had to get out of second gear. There was optimism around the Super Eagles going into the World Cup, largely based around the youthful vibrancy manager Gernot Rohr has installed since taking charge.
Such qualities were completely absent on Saturday evening, however, and Nigeria lacked spark and zip in the final third. Even more worrying was the fact they did not have any sort of discernible game plan in attack, with Victor Moses heavily relied upon for individual moments of magic.
Nigeria are the only Group D team without a point after the first round of fixtures, so it is imperative that they emerge victorious here – while a draw would keep their slim hopes alive mathematically, it would leave them with everything to do heading into the final set of matches.
Rohr’s men will need to start quickly in an attempt to dislodge their opponents’ well-drilled setup, while more will be expected of Alex Iwobi and John Obi Mikel in attacking positions. They must also be wary of Iceland’s ability to break out quickly, with Gylfi Sigurdsson particularly dangerous with his elusive moment and tremendous technique.
Iceland should win this to nil
It will probably be a case of more of the same for Iceland at the Volgograd Arena on Friday afternoon; Heimir Hallgrimsson’s charges relish playing back-foot, reactive football, and they will be content to allow Nigeria the lion’s share of possession here.
Sigurdsson and Alfred Finnbogason are both capable of tucking chances away in and around the penalty area, while wide men Birkir Bjarnason and Johann Berg Gudmundsson – who is facing a race against time to be fit – are key to their quick breaks forward.
The victors here will take a huge step towards a place in the knockout rounds, and on the evidence of their first performances, it is worth backing Iceland to get the all-important three points. An Icelandic win to nil (4.00) is my tip for this one, while a goalless first half (2.30) is another tempting wager here.
By Greg Lea
After many years of sports writing with emphasis on football, including a stint at Sky Sports, Greg is here to help you with betting tips. Follow him on Twitter @greglea to get the latest updates before placing your bets.