Nigeria and Iceland look for their first wins of their World Cup campaigns in Volgograd on Friday and Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) picks out his best bets.
Nigeria v Iceland | Friday 22nd June 2018, 16:00 | BBC
We all know how good Iceland are defensively. Their power, discipline and battling qualities truly came to the fore in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Argentina.
Kari Arnason was excellent in the air and centre-back partner Ragnar Sigurdsson made plenty of blocks in a performance that was largely about rear-guard action; they looked in their element.
Nine of Iceland’s last 11 victories have been to nil and seven of those nine have seen them score two or fewer goals.
It would be simplistic to describe them as a defensive side because they can be assertive in the challenge and play forward with real intent at times; the likes of Aron Gunnarsson and Birkir Bjarnasson look for early forward passes while Gylfi Sigurdsson can pose a counter-attacking threat with his runs in from the left channel, as we saw in Moscow.
However, it is difficult to sustain this high-octane football for 90 minutes and therefore, especially if Iceland take the lead, we can expect periods in which their sole focus will be to protect their penalty area.
The qualities that Iceland showed to execute their effective defensive display – fearlessness in the challenge, good decision making in their own penalty area, quick attacks and a strong response to going behind – Nigeria didn’t show at all against Croatia.
Their performance in a 2-0 defeat was not only defensive, it was arguably the worst of the World Cup so far – and for those who have witnessed Saudi Arabia, that is not to be said lightly.
The most damning indictment of their display wasn’t that they conceded two comically poor goals and showed very little quality, but that there was no intent.
The Super Eagles spent the second half with most of their players unwilling to venture beyond the halfway line, despite knowing the onus was on them to score.
Fans who made the 8000 km journey from Abuja to Kaliningrad might, understandably, feel a little peeved.
Head coach Gernot Rohr must be tempted to swap one of the defensive players for winger Ahmed Musa or forward Kelechi Iheanacho.
If he sticks with the current system, with Oghenekaro Etebo and Wilfred Ndidi as the double-pivot and John Obi Mikel the most advanced central midfielder, despite having scored just eight goals for club and country in a 14-year senior career, then it is hard to see where the threat will come from.
The betting angle
Every time Iceland get a free-kick, a corner or a throw-in, Arnason positions himself adjacent to the near-post and therefore, he is often the intended initial target. Given that the ex-Plymouth and Rotherham man has scored in two of his last five international games – and Nigeria are very bad at defending set pieces – 888‘s 14/1 on Arnason to score anytime looks appealing for those who fancy a speculative punt.
If Our Boys take the lead against a poor Nigeria side, it is difficult to see them letting it slip.
Nigeria v Iceland – Iceland to Win and Under 3.5 Goals (11/5 Betfair)