Having shocked the footballing world after stopping Argentina in their opening game, Iceland will be full of confidence as they face Nigeria at the Volgograd Arena on Friday
Lionel Messi’s missed penalty offered Iceland a much-needed point from their opening game and Heimir Hallgrimsson’s side will look to capitalize on that form when they face Nigeria on Friday.
Alfred Finnboggason’s strike cancelled out Sergio Aguero’s opener as a rigid Iceland side managed to hold a strong Argentina, in what turned out to be one of the biggest upsets in this year’s FIFA World Cup. However, the European underdogs will look to maintain their unbeaten run knowing a defeat could inflict heavy damage in their hopes of qualifying through to the knockout rounds.
Nigeria, on the other hand, comes into this fixture following a devastating 3:0 defeat against Croatia. The West African giants have been one of the most disappointing teams in the competition so far but will look to change that, with a win against Iceland this week. However, a defeat for the Super Eagles could all but erase their hopes of qualifying for the Round of 16, meaning a win is imperative before readying themselves for their final group game against tournament favourites Argentina.
The Group D table took a rather uncanny shape following these results, with Croatia sitting atop the table with three points. Heavyweights Argentina are level on points with third-placed Iceland. Thus, a win for Iceland could help them topple league leaders Croatia, providing they lose their game against Argentina while Nigeria will have nothing to lose in this virtual knockout fixture against the Strákarnir okkar.
And here, at the Hard Tackle, we run the rule over these two sides before their highly anticipated clash on Friday.
Team news & tactics
Being well organized at the back has been the ethos of Iceland’s success in recent years and head coach Heimir Hallgrimsson will make sure his side follows the same philosophy when they face Nigeria this week. In addition, the Strákarnir okkar have also dangerous in going forward, which will be a huge bonus for the Europeans coming into this match.
Tactically, Iceland are expected to line-up in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Hannes Thor Halldorsson in between the sticks. The 34-year-old keeper saved a poor freekick from Lionel Messi to hand Iceland a much-needed point against Argentina and will be looking to enhance his growing reputation with an equally impressive performance versus Nigeria.
Iceland head coach will see no reason to tinker with the team that played against Argentina, meaning the back-four of Birkir Mar Saevarsson, Kari Arnason, Ragnar Sigurdsson and Hordur Bjorgvin Magnusson will likely remain the same. The duo of Aron Gunnarsson and Emil Hallfredsson will also retain their place in the starting lineup at the base of Iceland’s 4-4-1-1.
However, Johann Berg Gudmundsson is out with a calf problem, which will likely pave the way for Rurik Gislason to start in wider position along with Birkir Bjarnason. Alfred Finbogasson will be tasked with the responsibility of leading Iceland’s attack against Nigeria with Gylfi Sigurdsson providing the service in behind the FC Augsburg striker.
Predicted Lineup(4-1-4-1): Halldorsson; Saevarsson, Arnason, Sigurdsson, Magnusson; Gislason, Gunnarsson, Hallfredsson, Bjarnason; Sigurdsson; Finnbogason.
Nigeria looked all over the place with no real cohesion in their first game. which would be a cause for concern for head coach Gernot Rohr. In fact, the Super Eagles also looked clueless going forward, meaning even a draw against Iceland could be a huge result for this Nigeria seemingly lacking identity. However, despite an awful performance against Croatia in the opening fixture, Nigeria are expected to start with the same 4-2-3-1 lineup.
The defensive back-four will comprise of Abdullahi Shehu, William Troost-Ekong, Leon Balogun and Brian Idowu. Balogun, in particular, will be key as Nigeria look to keep a clean sheet in their second group game.
Midfield will remain the biggest worry for Gernot Rohr, however, with team captain John Obi Mikel failing to impress in the game against Croatia. The duo of Wilfred Ndidi and Oghenkaro Etebo looked quite decent and will sit at the base of the 4-2-3-1 with Mikel deployed in the slightly advanced midfield position. The former Chelsea star will definitely need to play to his potential if Nigeria are to salvage anything from this game.
In attack, the front three of Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi and striker Odion Ighalo will be key as the African giants look to unlock Iceland’s sturdy defence. Even though Moses was quite ineffective against Croatia, his proficiency in the wider position could hand Nigeria a huge boost in their attempts of breaking down their opposition this Friday.
Predicted Lineup(4-2-3-1): Uzoho; Shehu, Ekong, Balogun, Idowu; Ndidi, Etebo; Moses, Obi Mikel, Iwobi; Ighalo
- All five of Nigeria’s wins at the World Cup have come against European sides.
- The Super Eagles have won just one of their last 13 World Cup games (D3, L9), with that victory coming against Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2014.
- Iceland drew their first ever World Cup game against Argentina. The last side to avoid defeat in their opening two matches were Senegal in 2002.
- Alfred Finnbogason has scored in his last three appearances for Iceland, though they’ve failed to win any of those matches (D2, L1).
- After recording eight shots in the first half against Argentina, Iceland failed to register an attempt on goal in the rest of the match.
Player to watch
FC Augsburg striker Alfred Finnbogason will remain the main attraction of this highly anticipated clash between two sides looking to make it into the knockout stages of the competition. The striker has played an increasingly central figure in Iceland’s golden era and will carry the hopes of his side once again in the attacking department.
Finnbogason scored the all-important equalizer as Iceland surprisingly drew with Argentina and fans will be hoping for an equally impressive performance against a weak-looking Nigerian defence this week. Therefore, stopping him would be imperative for Gernot Rohr’s side if they are snatch anything from this game.
Iceland 0-0 Nigeria
Both sides come into this fixture with their respective strengths and weaknesses but the highly competitive nature of clash will likely prevent both the sides from finding the back of the net. Iceland, however, definitely remain the favourites in this encounter but we should never rule out a team like Nigeria, who boasts massive potential and have a knack of coming out of the blue. It definitely calls for a highly enticing encounter as we head into the middle part of the group stage fixtures.