World Cup 2018: Nigeria vs. Iceland preview, players to watch, key stats

Iceland - cropped
Iceland celebrate against Argentina (Getty Images)

Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson expects Nigeria to come out firing against his side in Friday’s Group D clash in Volgograd.

Hallgrimsson’s men continued their remarkable fairytale exploits among international soccer’s elite in their opening match at the 2018 World Cup, holding Lionel Messi and Argentina to a 1-1 draw.

Nigeria failed to produce anything quite so stirring as it subsided to a forgettable 2-0 loss against Croatia.

“This is a must-win game for Nigeria, and that makes it a little bit psychologically different, they have to win,” Hallgrimsson told reporters. “This group is going to be decided in the last minutes, in the last game. It’s going to be down to some margins, a set piece, a goal in extra time. This is how this group is going to be played.”

A tight finish remains very much in prospect in one of the most evenly matched groups on paper at the tournament.

However, Nigeria is already lagging behind and appeared devoid of attacking spark throughout its opening performance in Kaliningrad.

“We are focused. We are ready. We want to win,” captain and experienced midfielder John Obi Mikel told reporters. “We know that we need a victory against Iceland to stay in the tournament and we are doing everything in training to make that happen.”

Mikel is well aware the Croatia performance went down badly at home, meaning pride — as well as extended participation at the World Cup — is on the line.

“We know how Nigerians were feeling and still feeling now but we have put the loss behind us and look forward to Friday,” he said. “Based on our situation now, we have no other option than to win against the two countries because we still want to continue in this World Cup.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Nigeria – Victor Moses

Reinvented as Antonio Conte’s first choice at right wing back for Chelsea, Moses reverts back to his former life as a rampaging wide attacker for Nigeria. Inspirational with three goals in four matches as the Super Eagles topped CAF Group B, he was unable to lift his teammates from their torpor against Croatia.

Iceland – Alfred Finnbogason

Unable to find the net during three substitute appearances at Euro 2016, Augsburg forward Finnbogason got in on the act by canceling out Sergio Aguero’s opener against Argentina. An increasingly central figure in Iceland’s golden era, he scored 12 times in the Bundesliga last season.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– Iceland drew its first-ever World Cup game when it met Argentina. The last side to avoid defeat in its first two World Cup games was Senegal in 2002, while Croatia in 1998 was the last European side to do so.
– Nigeria has won just one of its past 13 games at the World Cup (W1 D3 L9), with that victory coming against Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2014.
– Alfred Finnbogason has scored in each of his last three appearances for Iceland, though the team has failed to win any of those matches (W0 D2 L1).
– Victor Moses has been directly involved in 36 percent of Nigeria’s 14 shots at this World Cup, with three attempts of his own and two further chances created — more than any other player for the Super Eagles.