The Super Eagles of Nigeria are threatening bolts of fire and brimstone to rain on Saturday against England’s Three Lions, in what promises to be a thrilling Russia 2018 World Cup build-up game for both teams at Wembley Stadium, London.
It will be the third ever clash between both countries, the first of which was another friendly that was won 1-0 by England, with a header from David Plat in November 1994, while the second tie ended goalless between both sides at Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup.
Both countries have qualified for this year’s World Cup, where England will open against Tunisia on June 18, hence the test against a fellow-African nation, with Nigeria also lining out on June 16 versus Croatia in their first game of Russia 2018.
England hosted and won the FIFA World Cup in 1966, but have only gone as far as the semi-finals since then, when Bobby Robson steered a squad including Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne to the last four in Italy 28 years ago.
Just like the Three Lions, the Eagles are dreaming of big things to come in Russia, despite both teams being ‘blessed’ differently with intricate opposition in the group stage.
Nigeria must negotiate the obstacles offered by two-time world champions and reigning world vice champions Argentina, hard-as-nails eastern Europeans Croatia and an Iceland squad that stunned England and world football in the Round of 16 at the 2016 European Championship in France.
On the other hand, for the Mundial in June, with eyes on the July 15 final, England must sort matters out with strong African opponents Tunisia, Asia contenders Japan and Panama from CONCACAF (i.e. Central America).
The Eagles have never gone beyond the Round of 16 at the global soccer showpiece, but the Three Lions must beware of a motivated, ambitious and young Nigerian squad aiming for the height in Russia.
On Teusday night, at a brief event at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja, Senate President Bukola Saraki spurred the team on with a cash gift of $50,000, and with a pledge of ‘special package’ for every unreplied goal at the World Cup finals in Russia.
On Wednesday morning, the Eagles’ contingent met with President Muhammadu Buhari at Aso Villa in Abuja, and the nation’s number one citizen’s words telling them to go and fight with their spirit, as the whole country is behind them, are still ringing in the players’ ears.
After bidding President Buhari farewell, the delegation was flown to London aboard a luxury jet, and will train for the big match at the Wembley on Friday, between 5pm-6pm.
Many of the Nigerian players are familiar with the United Kingdom, as Victor Moses recently won the English FA Cup with Chelsea, the west London club where Eagles’ skipper, John Obi Mikel also earlier achieved great things before moving to China to join Tianjin Teda.
Furthermore, Wilfred Onyinyen Ndidi is revered at Leicester City, where he won the Young Player of the Year award for the second successive season, while his club mate, Iheanacho got many goals for the Foxes in the FA Cup and made hay towards the end of the season in the EPL as well.
Alex Iwobi is with north London side, Arsenal, and Olaloluwa Aina is with Hull City, on loan from Chelsea, while Ahmed Musa recently left Leicester, on loan back at CSKA Moscow.
Odion Jude Ighalo was the top scorer at Watford for two seasons, before leaving for China last year and Kenneth Omeruo is officially registered with Chelsea, though he has been out on loan severally.
They have all been tagged ‘the insiders England must beware of on Saturday,’ and Iheanacho said simply: “England’s players know us and we know them. It will be a good match.”
Mikel added: “We are in England, a terrain most of us know too well. I was here and won several trophies with Chelsea, including the UEFA Champions League. It will be an interesting encounter on Saturday.”
England’s Football Association has already named Italian match official, Marco Guida as referee for Saturday’s prestige friendly at Wembley, aka The Home of Football.
Guida will be assisted by five of his compatriots, with Riccardo Di Fiore and Alessandro Giallatini as assistant referees, Davide Massa (Fourth Official), Michael Fabbri (Video Assistant Referee) and Giulio Dobosz (Second Video Assistant Referee).
The match, which is the penultimate pre-World Cup friendly for both teams before their first ties in their respective groups at Russia 2018, will start at 5.15pm on Saturday, and promises to be very explosive.