World Cup 2010: Nigeria vs Greece Preview

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World Cup 2010: Nigeria vs Greece Preview
Michael Steele/Getty Images

 A possible upset might be in the offing in the Nigeria-Greece match from the perspective of Nigeria should they lose. The Super Eagles will be fancying themselves the favorite to win going into this match, not without reason.

Nigeria have a better pedigree at the World Cup than Greece. The two countries met at USA 94, where Nigeria defeated Greece by two goals to nothing, going on to win their group, which included Argentina and Bulgaria. Nigeria would later play Italy in the second round and were just minutes away from the quarterfinal before Roberto Baggio scored an equalizer and later a penalty in extra time to secure victory for Italy.

Greece on the other hand lost all three group games, conceding four goals to both Argentina and Bulgaria beside their loss to Nigeria. While USA 94 marked the two team’s first appearance at the World Cup, South Africa 2010 is only Greece's second appearance at the tournament, while Nigeria qualified for both the 98 and 2002 editions, playing in the second round at the 98 edition and gracefully going out in the first round at the 2002 edition.

Greece, however, is not without world recognition which they earned for themselves by winning the 2004 European Championship, but since then their performance on the International stage has been dismal. For instance, their performance at the 2005 Confederation Cup as champions of Europe was unsuccessful where they lost two matches and drew one (3-0 to Brazil and 1-0 to Japan 0-0 with Mexico).  At Euro 2008, they lost all three games at the group stage (2:0 to Sweden, 1-0 to Russian, and 2:1 to Spain).

Greece goes into this match ranked higher at the 11th position than Nigeria which is ranked at 21. Their remarkable success at Euro 2004 still earns them respect in world football, and Nigeria will probably have this at the back of their minds.

Expect Greece to try to score first through set pieces. They should have observed  the Super Eagles' poor handling of set pieces in the latter's first group match against Argentina, which they lost by a goal to nil, scored from a corner kick. If Greece do score first, expect them to play their signature defensive game which can be frustrating to opponents. Nigeria’s lack of portent attackers can only benefit Greece if this happens.

On their part, having lost their first game to Argentina, expect to see Nigeria go on the attack immediately to try to score early so as to forestall playing under pressure for the rest of the game. The Nigerians must be encouraged by the dismal performance of Greece against South Korea last Saturday where they lost by two goals to nothing. With younger and arguably more skillful players, expect nothing less than an attacking display from them.

Weaknesses emerged from both teams in both their first group matches. We've mentioned the Nigerians' weakness at defending set pieces, which should give Greece an opening, who are strong on set pieces. In their preparatory matches against Saudi Arabia and North Korea, Nigeria struggled to string together accurate passes and looked visibly uncomfortable on the ball at times, and they lacked ability to sustain possession in these matches. The less you have the ball, of course, the more susceptible you are to conceding goals.

This particular problem stems from a lack of strong midfield. The absence John Mikel Obi, their midfield marshal, is clearly affecting the team. His replacement, Haruna Lukman, lacks the same holding power that Obi has and is susceptible to lapses of concentration. Another apparent weakness is the team's lack of a commanding attacking midfielder. Kaita prefers to play in the flanks and Kanu can only play a few minutes of a game. As a result of this, Greece should be able to win the midfield battle and control the match.

The outside left defensive position is a problem for Nigeria. Hopefully, Taye Taiwo should be fit to man this position, but Taiwo likes to overlap, which might prove to be an Achilles’ heel for Nigeria. We've seen goals scored against Nigeria as a result of mistakes from this area, first against North Korea from mistake from Uwas Echiejile, and then from Chidi Odiah against Argentina. This should benefit Greece.

The main weakness of Greece is that they have a habit of falling apart if they are scored against first. They seem to lack mental power to motivate themselves back into a game in such a situation. This should benefit Nigeria if they can score first. In their match against South Korea, Greece looked visibly flustered and seemed to lack strategy after they fell behind. To win today’s game, they have to play with more motivation than they did against South Korea.

 I predict a one-nil victory for either side.

 

 

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