KALININGRAD, Russia - No news is good news as far as Nigeria are concerned, with captain John Obi Mikel happy to report trouble-free preparations ahead of their opening game at the World Cup against Croatia on Saturday.
Nigeria, at the finals for a sixth time, have a long history of botched preparations, late coaching changes and money squabbles which have all contributed to distracted teams arguably falling short of their potential in previous editions. There has been none of that this time round, though, Obi Mikel was quick to point out to reporters on Friday on the eve of the Group D game at the Kaliningrad Stadium.
"There have not been any issues in the camp. It's been a quiet camp, very disciplined and there is a real unity in the team," Obi Mikel said at the pre-match news conference. "It's been that way since day one. We feel ready, we have prepared really well and it's a game we want to win to start the tournament well."
Stricter control by German-born coach Gernot Rohr and a much more efficient administration are among the reasons for the change in approach, setting a platform for a strong World Cup challenge. But Nigeria have to put behind them disappointing results in their warm-up friendlies over the last weeks, losing to both England and the Czech Republic and drawing at home with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"We were trying out different formations but we are going to switch back to the way we played over the last year coming to this World Cup. If we do exactly what we know we can do, to control the game and be aggressive, we can do well," said Rohr. "Our players have a lot to prove and this is a very good stage for them but it's also important to keep their emotions in check," he added.
Obi Mikel also touched on the suffocating burden of expectation so often imposed on the team by Nigeria's population of more than 180 million. "We want to win even more than the fans but we also know you can't win all the time."
Rohr said Nigeria were the outsiders in their group, which also features Argentina and Iceland, but had set themselves the first target of finishing in the top two. "We are staying humble but we are also ambitious and if we are to get out of this group, we have to make a result against Croatia tomorrow (Saturday)," he said.Reuters