NIGERIA, ARGENTINA IN TITANIC CLASH
Nigeria's Super Eagles flag off their campaign at the 2010 World Cup holding in South Africa today against familiar foe, Argentina's Albicelestes in a crucial Group B opening fixture billed for the Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa.
It will be the third time both teams are drawn in the same group at the World Cup as the two had previously met in the 1994 and 2002 editions that took place in United States of America and Korea/ Japan respectively.
The Super Eagles will seek revenge today as it had lost to the Argentine side on the two previous meets. The first meet in 1994 ended 2-1 in favour of the Albicelestes then inspired by the legendary Diego Armando Maradona, while Gabriel Batistuta's lone strike gave the Argentines another victory over the Nigerian team at the Korea/Japan 2002 Mundial.
On paper, the Nigerian team stands a little chance against the star-studded Argentine squad that boasts of the deadliest strike force at this year's Mundial, which got underway yesterday in the Rainbow Nation. A team that parades the reigning World Footballer of the Year and FC Barcelona of Spain talisman, Lionel Messi, Diego Milito of Inter Milan of Italy, Real Madrid's forward, Gonzalo Higuian, Manchester City of England consummate attacker, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero of Athletico Madrid should send cold shivers down the spines of its opponents. These players had scored more than 91 goals among themselves in the recently concluded football season across Europe.
'I have 23 wild cats prepared to leave their skins on the pitch. We are going to reach a level that the Argentine shirt deserves. Argentines should relax because to beat this team, our rivals will have to put their beef on the grill,' Maradona boasted ahead of today's epic encounter.
Although none of the Nigerian strikers expected to impress at the World Cup was able to score up to 10 goals in the recently concluded season, the Super Eagles are nonetheless confident to give the Argentines a good fight.
'Honestly, I have no fears for this team against any opposition because I know we can hold our own against any team. I just want to tell Nigerians that we're ready for the World Cup. We've put in much hard work and we're determined to make Nigerians proud on Saturday against Argentina,' rave-of-the-moment, midfielder, Haruna Lukman, said ahead of today's clash.
'We need to take our pound of flesh against Argentina. There were some things lacking in our game before, but this time round, I hope we can do better. We hope we can give Argentina a good fight in our opening game at the World Cup,' added Nigeria's reigning football king, Osaze Odemwingie.
While the Super Eagles may not match the Argentine team in terms of quality of players, Nigeria might just reap from the low tactical depth of Maradona. Analysts have expressed doubts over his ability to effectively harness the rich potentialities of his quality players. They envisage that Nigeria's manager, Lars Lagerback, plans to exploit the inexperience of the Argentine former captain in the coaching business when both men go head-to-head today.
The Super Eagles build-up matches, particularly, the 3-1 emphatic victory in the last international friendly against the North Korean World Cup squad, was enough proof that the Swede has got something up his sleeves tactically.
He is expected to line-up a strong midfield that would feature the new-kid-on-the bloc, Lukman of Monaco, Dickson Etuhu of Fulham of England, Dutch-based Sani Kaita and Kalu Uche, who plies his club football in Spain. The youthful quartet is expected to find answers to the antics of Messi and old-war-horse, Sebastin Veron, who are expected to lead the midfield battle for Argentina in today's epic clash.
Lagerback will also rely on the new found partnership between Obinna Nsofor, Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Osaze Odemwingie upfront to unlock the Mascherano-led defence of the Argentines, while Rabiu Afolabi, Dele Adeleye, Chidi Odia and Elderson Chiejile are preferred choices in the Nigerian defence to ward-off threats from Messi, Milito, Tevez and Aguero.