NIGERIA can secure their passage to the Last 16 with a victory over crisis-ridden Argentina and Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) reckons Gernot Rohr’s side could go goal-crazy.
Nigeria v Argentina | Tuesday 26th June 2018, 19:00 | BBC
Argentina might not yet have hit rock bottom.
The way they have defended in this tournament – and the way they have invited pressure with such sloppy play out from the back – they could easily have conceded a lot more than four goals.
In the opening round, they drew 1-1 with an Iceland side that perhaps lacked the quality to put their defence under further scrutiny; Birkir Bjarnason missed a gift-wrapped sitter early on in that one, remember.
In their second game, they lost 3-0 to a Croatia outfit that were more ruthless but opted to manage proceedings; the Argies could perhaps have shipped more goals had their opponents committed numbers to counter-attacks earlier in the match.
Afterwards, under-fire boss Jorge Sampaoli said: “the project failed” before quickly correcting himself as though he was referring to the project for that particular game; a Freudian slip?
When a reporter put to Sergio Aguero that Sampaoli had said the players hadn’t adapted to the project, the striker responded: “let him say what he wants” before storming off.
Sampaoli did take responsibility for the result but his methods – although very successful with hungrier, more energetic players – appear to place high physical demands on an aging squad better suited to subtle technical play.
A section of the players have asked for a change of manager before this final group game; the AFA have seemingly taken the decision-making powers away from Sampaoli and now, we believe, the players will be deciding the team among themselves.
What could possibly go wrong?
Super Eagles to soar
There has been reason to question Nigeria’s goalscoring credentials previously, but what they now have is pace.
Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa didn’t start the 2-0 defeat to Croatia in the opening round, but both started in Volgograd and made a huge impression in a 2-0 win over Iceland; Musa scored a second half brace.
The duo’s movement means wing-back Victor Moses has players ahead of him to utilize his runs; he wasn’t the sole person carrying the attack, which had been part of the problem against Croatia.
Not only that, ball-winners Oghenekaro Etebo and Wilfred Ndidi imposed their energy on proceedings further up the pitch against Iceland; a 34-year-old Javier Macherano and a 32-year-old Enzo Perez, if they both play, could be frightened by the tenacity of their opposite numbers.
In most situations, attacks require not just pace but also clever movement and precision, because opposing teams normally have a defensive structure that means any attacks relying on raw speed from one or two individuals will be snuffed out quickly.
The state Argentina are in means that this game could be unique – it is possible that not an awful lot more than pace will be required to carve them open emphatically.
There will also be a sense of opportunism about Nigeria’s play. They had been written off as Group D’s whipping boys a week ago, so the mind-set will not be so much about what they have to protect, but what they have to gain.
The betting angle
Ahmed Musa to score anytime at 9/2 with Marathon looks a wonderful option, considering the space he’ll have to exploit.
For those in extra adventurous mood, it could also be worth exploring Nigeria to score five or more goals at 200/1 with Coral. Although we don’t necessarily think they have a better attack than Croatia in normal circumstances, the make-up of their team might be better suited to annihilating a side in Argentina’s predicament, having beaten them 4-2 back in November.
La Albiceleste still have a chance of qualifying and the sheer emotion attached to the World Cup can have erratic affects on otherwise capable footballers – even Lionel Messi looked seriously affected by the pressure.
It is very possible that they will have some players not trying as hard as they should and some trying too hard; the absence of leadership on the sidelines could then allow anarchy to take hold. The result of that would be no proper game plan, gaps in defensive areas and therefore the situation of a slow defence facing an incredibly quick, opportunistic attack.
Bearing all those things in mind, the likelihood of Nigeria scoring more than four goals seems a lot higher than the probability of 0.5% that the above odds imply.
For those not keen on very speculative punts though, the 32/5 on the basic Super Eagles win offers ample value.