World Cup Rank Bank – Nigeria

How cool do you think you are? You could think you’re pretty cool. My aul mate Baz played Darude’s Sandstorm on Paddy’s Night blowing into the top of a half drunk bottle of Vitazade. At the time, I thought that was pretty cool. Twenty four hours later, I now realise I was just drunk. But dare anyone tell me that the coolness of Nigeria’s USA ’94 garb, has depreciated over the last twenty four years – and this year’s isn’t too shabby either. Yes, from the land that brought you Daniel Amokachi’s right foot, Taribo West’s hair stylist and John Fashanu’s many hats – I give you, the Super Eagles!Super-Eagles-at-USA-94-

Manager: Gernot Rohr

The experienced German leads up a team of coaches, having been appointed to the role of head coach back in August 2016. You’ll remember a previous post where I made the rather spicy comment that angel-on-Earth, Hervé Renard, had seen more African outposts than Joseph Conrad. Well, Gernot gives him a run for his money – Nigeria being his fourth consecutive international management role having oversaw the fortunes of Gabon, Niger and Burkina Faso since 2010. That’s where the similarities with Herv the Swerve stop, unfortunately for Herr Rohr – who’s resemblance is more Albert Reynolds battering out the Anglo-Irish Agreement than it is Jesus.

Star Player: Kalechi Iheanacho (Leicester City)

Despite having somewhat of a disappointing time at Leicester to this point- his failure to dislodge Jamie Vardy playing a pivotal role – Iheanacho is proving his worth at international level with his country.  Having scored eight times in the green of the SuperKelechi-Iheanacho-676701 Eagles in only fourteen appearances, the young striker will relish the chance to put his name firmly back to the forefront domestically, by impressing at the tournament. Nigeria have plenty of exciting options alongside the former Man City man in attack in the shape of Odion Ighalo, Alex Iwobi and the more offensively deployed Victor Moses.

 

Road to Russia

Nigeria’s journey to the finals started along with the four other African representatives in November 2015, disposing of minnows Swaziland over two legs. Subsequently, they were drawn into what many pundits were calling “the group of death” alongside highly ranked Cameroon and Algeria and the tricky Zambia, with a berth in Russia only reserved for top spot. But a strong start to the group and three wins from three at home ensured they were the first African team to book their travel arrangements for this Summer. They even had enough in reserve to have their draw away to Algeria stripped from them and awarded to the home side in the wake of fielding an ineligible player. So cool. So Super Eagles.

Record v Ireland: Won (2) Drawn (1) Lost (0)

We have still to beat those pesky Nigerians. Having first welcomed them to Landsdowne Road in the farewell and good luck game before heading to Saipan, the Nigerians played out a one-all draw most recently with us back in May 2009, in a game played at Craven Cottage. Sandwiched between that was a three-nil drubbing in an end of season embarrassment called the Unity Cup, back in 2004, whilst any decent European footballing nation was focusing on the upcoming European Championships. Tasty names from that team sheet included the likes of Nick Colgan, Martin Rowlands and Ireland’s own miracle man Clive Clarke, who’s career was cut short a few years later after suffering a cardiac arrest whilst playing for Sunderland against Forest.

 

How Will They Go?

Group D is definitely one of the most exciting groups of the first stage. Nigeria are pitted against a GOAT inspired Argentinian side, the ever unpredictable Croats and debutantes Iceland – who we know only too well proved to England that revenge is a dish best served cold, the latter having made Kerrynigeria-2018-world-cup-home-kit-3 Katona synonymous with the island nation. Unfortunately for the Nigerians, the only thing that could well live long in the memory at this tournament are their absolutely naughty jerseys. Despite their undoubted flair in attack, I shudder to think what the likes of Messi, Mandžukić and Sigurðsson would do to their defence.

 

Prediction: 4th – let’s hope they score, so we can enjoy an audacious celebration at least.

 

 

World Cup Rank Bank – Australia

Gotta love them ‘Roos. Personally, I have a soft spot for Australia when it comes to professional sport. They’re just great craic, aren’t they? If it’s not their cricket fans giving the English players hell during The Ashes, the anarchy of Pat Cash climbing through the throngs on Centre Court, or indeed the thongs of their Women’s Beach Volleyball team, it’s a Mark Bosnich green card marriage. Their footballers travel to Russia as the rank outsiders in what is officially the tightest group. But this isn’t their first rodeo, and their fans will be expectant, as the men from Down Under compete in their fourth successive finals.

 

Manager: Bert van Marwijk

The Aussie’s are managed by Dutch Football’s answer to Elvis and Michael Jackson, in father Bert van Marwijk and son-in-law Mark van Bommel. The paralleling of van Bommel and Michael Jackson entertains me. They have an unbeaten record at the helm, certainly at least in part thanks to the fact they haven’t yet had a match – van Marwijk announced his first squad for friendlies with Norway and Colombia last week. In the Dutch man, the ‘Roos are tapping into a vast wealth of international management experience. After guiding his compatriots all the way to the final in South Africa in 2010, he also secured Saudi Arabia’s qualification to this year’s tournament, oddly. Failing to agree a new contract with the Saudi’s in the aftermath of their qualification, van Marwijk left his role in the Gulf, but his physical and dynamic brand of football could well be a perfect fit for the Australians.

 

Star Player: Tom Rogic (Celtic)

Playmaker Rogic is a wholly biased choice, after his beautiful solo effort pulled the Hoops back on terms last Sunday in the Old Firm game, but he will play a central role if the Aussies are to have any success in Russia. He’s one of a number of recognisable names in their midfield, including the likes of Huddersfield’s Aaron Mooy, Villa enforcer Mile Jedinak and of course Premier League legend Tim Cahill, who has recently rocked back up at Millwall. Rogic and Mooy will look to lay on chances for goal threats Matthew Leckie and Tomi Juric up front, but for now, lets just drink that goal in again…

 

Record v Ireland: Won (1) Drawn (0) Lost (1)

Twice, Australia have made the trip over in international friendlies. Goals from John O’ Shea and Clinton Morrison secured a come-from-behind victory back in August 2003, a brief release from the terrible Euro 2004 qualifying campaign. Good man Mick. They returned again in August 2009, this time to Thomond Park, where Australia were to run out comfortable victors – Tim Cahill getting a brace on the night.

 

Little Known Fact: Hello, Goodbye at the FFA

So try to keep up. Five months ago, Australia claimed passage to Russia after a rousing second leg play off victory over Honduras in Sydney. Hurrah say all those at the Football Federation of Australia. Six days later the bombshell of coach Ange Postecoglou’s tearful resignation seemingly threw plans for the finals into the wind. However, in the months leading up to the decisive play off, conjecture was growing that Postecoglou was beleaguered with his country’s top job. At the end of January, the FFA announced that Bert van Marwijk would step in on an interim basis to negotiate preparations for Russia and the finals themselves, an exciting coup for all involved. But like a night I once had with a girl from Sweden when I was eighteen, the excitement will eventually lead to an all too brief affair. That’s because last Sunday it was announced that Graham Arnold, manager of Sydney FC, was to step into the breach on a long term basis after the World Cup. Many aren’t happy. Roberto Mancini and Marco Bielsa had been touted for the job, not to mention the questionable form of Arnold’s Sydney side since the start of March – one draw and three defeats could have come at a more convenient time one imagines. I’d imagine this is what arranged marriage feels like.

 

How Will They Go?

Despite being the lowest ranked team in their group, the distraction of the rotating coaches, and having to take on the delectable French, I actually feel Australia could cause a few surprises. Given that experience and creativity in their midfield, the games against Denmark and Peru could be extremely tight affairs, especially if van Marwijk and van Bommel have enough time to put their physical stamp on the team. Certainly, the 100/30 that Bet Victor are offering on them to finish Top Asian team at the tournament could prove a shrewd investment.

Prediction: 2nd – ballsy and outlandish statement. How very Australian of me!