14:00 BST, Wednesday 6th June, Rudolf-Tonn-Stadion (Schwechat, Austria)
Nigeria travel to Austria on Wednesday to face a dispirited Czech Republic team, who will play on the back of a 4-0 defeat to Australia on Friday.
While the Czechs narrowly missed out on a spot in Russia, finishing third in their group behind Germany and Northern Ireland, Nigeria have much more than pride at stake as they prepare for yet another World Cup campaign.
Nigeria may have gained plaudits worldwide for their dazzling World Cup kit, but will need to address their winless streak in order to brighten their on-pitch prospects. Narrowly edged out by England on Saturday, there were mixed results for the Super Eagles from what was really a game of two entirely different halves.
Nigeria boss Gernot Rohr has a talented squad at his disposal and will need to take a fresh approach if he is to harness their true potential.
The Czech Republic are looking to put embarrassment behind them in this tie with Nigeria, with staying tight at the back likely to be the first objective.
While their goal-scoring potential was evident early in the first half against Australia, a lack of morale lead to an ultimately non-existent attacking threat as the game drew to a close.
Last Time Out
England 2-1 Nigeria
Nigeria endured an error-laden first half against the Three Lions, with their abysmal first half display putting the tie out of their reach. The second half was much more encouraging for the Super Eagles, and they will surely be looking to draw inspiration from this turnaround as they head into future ties.
Gary Cahill put England in front after seven minutes, powerfully heading home a corner kick from Kieran Trippier.
England doubled their lead through Harry Kane in the 39th minute, with the Spurs striker firing a powerful, low, drive past Nigeria goalkeeper Francis Uzoho.
After making four changes at half-time, Nigeria pulled a goal back two minutes into the second half, with Arsenal winger Alex Iwobi scoring from a rebounded shot by Odion Ighalo.
While the Nigerians continued to pose a threat occasionally, England finished the game with the larger share of chances, further highlighting Nigeria’s need to improve defensively.
Australia 4-0 Czech Republic
Australia provided themselves with a timely pre-World Cup boost on Friday with a stunning four-goal victory over the Czechs on Friday. While the Socceroos were the deserved winners of the tie. the scoreline was not necessarily reflective of the game itself.
It was the Czech Republic who started on the front foot, with Antonin Barak missing a glaring opportunity in the 21st minute, blasting a shot from close range over the bar. Mathew Leckie put Australia in front in the 32nd minute, changing the run of play entirely.
The second half was dominated by the Socceroos, who controlled the game from their midfield superiority.
Andrew Nabbout scored Australia’s second goal shortly after half-time, in the 52nd minute, while Leckie completed his brace in the 70th minute. The victory was sealed with an own goal from Jakub Jugas, following a cross from Milos Degenek.
Nigeria’s lineup features three changes from the England tie, with Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho starting up front.
Alex Iwobi and Victor Moses should yet again start on the wings, with John Obi Mikel playing in the centre-attacking-midfield role.
Another Leicester player should come into the starting lineup in the form of Wilfred Ndidi, starting alongside Joel Obi.
Czech Republic Lineup
The Czech Republic’s lineup is similar to that of the Australia tie, with captain Marek Suchy reclaiming his position in the backline, along with the seasoned Theodor Gebre Selassie.
Josef Husbauer and Vladimír Darida retain their positions in centre-midfield, while Michael Krmencik leads the Czech line.
Kremncik will be supported by Jan Kopic, Antonin Barak, and Patrik Schick in the attacking-midfield positions.
Key Battle: Patrik Schick vs Leon Balogun
Young Czech Republic forward Patrik Schick is undoubtedly a player with remarkable potential, but has struggled to play in his preferred role as a striker in the Czech national team to date.
The 22-year-old spent the last season on loan at Roma from Sampdoria, where he managed three goals in 26 appearances. Despite his mediocre goal-scoring returns, he showed tremendous attacking versatility, with Roma having the option to buy the young Czech frontman when the loan deal elapses.
Schick is not renowned for his pace, and while this holds him back from becoming a truly great winger, he exhibits fantastic ball-control and ability to beat defenders nonetheless.
His large stature and physicality indicate that he is best-used as a target man up front, and he will hope to claim this role in years to come at both a club and national level.
Nigeria’s Leon Balogun recently joined Brighton & Hove Albion on a free transfer, with the centre-back struggling for game-time at his former club Mainz.
The 29-year-old has gradually established himself as a regular in the Super Eagles’ starting lineup however, and will be hoping to use the Czech Republic tie as a chance to cement his spot ahead of the World Cup.
Balogun is known for his tackling prowess and his ability to win aerial duels, but suffers from his own indiscipline regularly. Balogun may need to reassess his tough-tackling playing style if he is to avoid debilitating bookings during the World Cup, with an opportunity to put this into practice against the Czechs.
Patrik Schick offers the most significant attacking threat for the Czech Republic, and the duel between these two players will definitely be watched with interest by the Nigerian management.
Nigeria’s optimism replaced by realism
The positive vibes from the Nigerian camp are truly heart-warming, with their players becoming well-known on social media for their singing and dancing as a form of relaxation. Team-spirit is, of course, one of the fundamental building blocks of success, and Nigeria have got this down to a fine art.
However, captain John Obi Mikel’s comments following the England tie perhaps revealed an underlying naivety within the squad, when he mentioned that the Three Lions had a ‘very good chance’ of winning the World Cup.
There is no denying that the quality within the England squad is far from the standard of the likes of France or Brazil, and Nigeria need to understand that they were beaten by an England side that didn’t pose the same challenge as some of their World Cup opponents will.
Nigeria will face Argentina, Croatia, and Iceland in Group D in Russia. While the Super Eagles should expect victory over Iceland, Croatia and Argentina will probably prove to be more difficult opponents.
They’ve struggled in recent weeks, and if they continue to perform as they have done in their last few matches, they will struggle to progress from the group stages. The Czech Republic also have struggled in recent times, and Nigeria would be doing well to capitalise on the Czech’s poor form.
The Czech Republic’s formational uncertainty
The Czech Republic have little to play for in this tie, and should instead be using it to gain a better idea of their strongest starting XI.
Many of their players who started against Australia were somewhat inexperienced and, perhaps, need more time in an experimental lineup before their most effective positions become apparent.
Senior players such as Gebre Selassie and Suchy were left out of the starting lineup in the Australia tie, a match in which the unseasoned Czech backline were exploited ruthlessly. It’s likely that the Czech defence will comprise a more balanced array of players against Nigeria, as they seek to transition gradually to a younger setup.
The Czechs may need to reassess their usage of striking options too, with Patrik Schick arguably wasted on the right-wing.
While it’s likely that Schick will start there again in this tie, with Michael Krmencik leading the line, the Czech’s should aim to explore new attacking dynamics in order to pose a more incisive threat.
Prediction: Nigeria 2-0 Czech Republic
Nigeria should have the upper hand in this tie, and their will to end a winless streak will act as added motivation.
The Super Eagles have more attacking threat than the Czechs in the form of Iheanacho, Moses and Iwobi, with plenty of options to choose from on the bench too, including Ahmed Musa and Odion Ighalo.
The Czech Republic have looked shaky in recent times, and unless they change their style of play dramatically in this tie, they will surely be looking at another defeat.
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