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Nigeria to meet Argentina for the fifth time in six World Cup appearances

25 June 2018 - 18:04 By Nick Said
Nigeria's midfielder John Obi Mikel (C) takes part in a training session of Nigeria's national football team at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg, on June 25, 2018 on the eve of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group D football match between Nigeria and Argentina.
Nigeria's midfielder John Obi Mikel (C) takes part in a training session of Nigeria's national football team at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg, on June 25, 2018 on the eve of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group D football match between Nigeria and Argentina.
Image: CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP

Monday sees the start of the final round of group games at the World Cup and over the next four days we will know the Last 16 line-up.

We have news from Nigeria‚ Senegal‚ England‚ France and a guy from Iceland who is proving among the most popular players at the tournament!

REVENGE FOR OBI MIKEL

Nigeria will meet Argentina on Tuesday for the fifth time in their six World Cup finals appearances‚ an amazing statistic that highlights the special relationship the duo have in the global finals.

The South Americans have won all four of the previous clashes though‚ but this time are in some disarray against a Nigeria side bristling with confidence after their 2-0 win over Iceland last time out.

It will be a special moment perhaps for Super Eagles skipper John Obi Mikel‚ who can gain some revenge over the great Lionel Messi.

Obi Mikel was rueful recently as he recalled the 2005 FIFA Under-20 World Cup‚ where Nigeria met Argentina in the final.

“Before the game people said that I was going to win the Golden Ball for being the player of the tournament‚” Mikel says.

“But then Messi scored twice‚ both of them penalties‚ Argentina won 2-1 and I got the Silver Ball. Messi has kept on stealing awards from me!”

A draw will likely be enough to see Nigeria through to the Last 16‚ as long as Iceland don’t get a big win over pool leaders Croatia.

ENGLAND TOO GOOD?

England may have come into the World Cup a little under the radar‚ with no-one giving Gareth Southgate’s side much chance of success‚ but they have shown in their first two games they could be a force.

Especially with free-scoring captain Harry Kane‚ who took his tally in the competition to five goals in two games with his hat-trick against Panama on Sunday.

England have sealed their path into the Last 16 with the result and will battle for top-spot when they face equally in-form Belgium on Thursday.

But ironically‚ the loser of that match may find themselves with an easier path through the knockout stages!

The pool winner is likely to face either Brazil or Germany in the quarterfinals‚ while the team that finishes second will probably‚ at this stage‚ meet either Mexico or Switzerland.

There is no doubt which knockout match both teams would prefer!

DISAPPOINTING DRAW

Senegal midfielder Alfred Ndiaye felt his side were better in their 2-2 draw against Japan on Sunday than the opening win over Poland‚ but the quality of their opponents meant they surrendered the lead twice.

“The problem was that there was a lot of movement on the part of the Japanese. We played better at times than in the match against Poland‚” Ndiaye said.

“But the Japanese played with four or five players in their axis and they swapped continuously. It was difficult for us to handle the situation.

"I think we came up against a very good Japanese team. We must pay tribute to them. It was a pretty even game.”

A draw for Senegal against Colombia in their final game will see the side advance to the Last 16‚ though a defeat could still see them through if Japan lose to ousted Poland by a greater margin.

“We are a little disappointed with the result‚ because our goal was to win and secure our qualification‚” Ndiaye said.

“But‚ if you think about it‚ we still stay at the top of the group and we know we have our own destiny in our hands.

"We’ve already got four points. That’s not a bad thing. Maybe this point against Japan will make all difference in the end.”

COMING GOOD

While forwards such as Cristiano Ronaldo‚ Harry Kane‚ Romelu Lukaku and Diego Costa have been banging in the goals‚ France’s leading man Antoine Griezmann has had a quiet start to the World Cup.

France have already sealed their Last 16 place but have not shone as expected despite the wins over Australia and Peru.

They face Denmark in their final game for top-spot in the pool and it is a chance for Griezmann to finally come to the party.

“I think he will get stronger‚ I hope he does. That was the case at the Euros‚ he started slowly and finished very strong. I’m not worried about him‚” fellow forward Olivier Giroud said.

“He has had a long‚ gruelling season. He’s played a huge number of matches. When you have a bit less in your legs‚ it’s harder to be at ease on the pitch‚ but he’s still very important for us.”

RISING STAR

The World Cup certainly does put players on the global stage and in front of the eyes of the planet! Iceland midfielder Rurik Gislason has caught attention not so much for his play‚ but rather his Nordic good looks.

The 30-year-old‚ who plays for Sandhausen in the German second division‚ was a virtual unknown coming into the tournament with 30‚000 Instagram followers.

However‚ after Iceland’s first two games in the competition that number has shot up to more than 1-million in a little over two weeks!

Talk about putting yourself on the map …

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