Normally, a Serbian team beaten by Morocco four days ago should not pose a problem to Super Eagles high on confidence, following their back to back victories over football super-power, Argentina and sixth seeded Poland. And both were impressive away victories.
But football is not simple mathematics. Tonite at the Hive Stadium, London, Serbia will seek to clip the wings of Nigeria’s Super Eagles, knowing that another defeat will shatter their Russia 2018 World Cup preparation. Coach Mladena Krstajic is desperate for a win needed to inject much needed confidence into his team after the loss to Morocco.
Which is why Krstajic has urged his players to go for a win.
“Nigeria have a solid team with many of the players playing for European clubs,” HotSport.rs quoted the former Schalke 04 player as saying on Monday.
“I expect a good reaction from our players and I think with good concentration, we can achieve a good result.
“I repeat, the most important thing is the result, everything else is irrelevant.”
“Nigeria have a lot of good players, we expect a very tough game, physically very demanding. So, we must prepare well and make everything look better than against Morocco,” he added.
He is expected to adopt again a 4-3-3 formation against Nigeria, with PAOK’s Aleksandar Prijovic, the scorer of the team’s only goal against Morocco, mandated to down the Super Eagles.
That may not be easy. The Super Eagles have been transformed under tutelage of cool-headed German coach, Gernat Rohr. He has successfully instilled into an African side the disciple, intelligence and compactness typical of European teams. That was why it was easy in Wroclaw for the Super Eagles to successfully administer their 1-0 lead over Poland from the 61st minute when Chelsea star, Victor Moses scored via a penalty, till the end of the game. This may not have been possible in the past. Blunders would have been committed at the rear.
The famous “German Wall” of William Ekong and Leon Balogun has injected much confidence into how the Super Eagles defend. It was encouraging to see them neutralize Bayern Munich’s lethal striker, Robert Lewandowski in the game against Poland – so much that coach Adam Nawalk had to send him early to the shower room.
Nevertheless, the game in Wroclaw exposed that, maybe due to the absence of team captain Mikel Obi, the Eagles lacked creativity in the midfield. Against Poland, Abdullahi Shehu freed himself a couple of times into dangerous positions, but none in the midfield had the vision to connect him. Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi and Joel Obi are doing brilliantly wading off onslaughts in the midfield but what they do once balls have been won is still below world class par.
It is expected that Shehu will start again in the attack, alongside Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi and talisman, Moses, who will again be relied on to produce some magic needed to tear Serbia apart in the absence of a creative midfield.
In a world still divided by visas and permits, Mikel Obi is stuck in China, sorting out his work permit and would again miss the match against Serbia, like he did against Poland.
Coach Rohr has invited Turkey-based Mikel Agu to replace Obi but the frustrated Super Eagles captain wrote on Social Media on Monday, “Unfortunately due to circumstances beyond my control I will not be on the field for our game v Serbia tomorrow (Tuesday). I am sad, and frustrated, but giving my full support to the team for another WIN!.”
Nigeria have not played Serbia before and it would be interesting to see how both teams measure against each other in the clash at the Hive.
Since 2016, Nigeria have lost only one game. It was the 0-2 defeat against South Africa in the Nations Cup qualifier in Uyo. After the victories over Argentina and Poland, it will be a surprise if the Super Eagles fell to the Serbs at the Hive.