The Super Eagles are in a good mental and physical shape for tomorrow’s match against Croatia, Coach Gernot Rohr said yesterday as World Cup Russia 2018 got underway.
After a short opening ceremony, hosts Russia hammered Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the opening match.
Nigeria’s match against Croatia tomorrow in one of the two Group D clashes, as Argentina and Iceland play the other game.
“We are looking forward to the match with a lot of optimism. It will be a tough one, but we are physically and mentally ready. We had quality preparatory matches and trained twice at our final camp in Austria, and since arriving in Essentuki, we have done some useful tactical preparation.
“It is important to start well in a good tournament like this, and that is what we hope to do on on Saturday,” Rohr said.
Croatia star player Andrej Kramaric described tomorrow’s match as the toughest for his side.
The 26-year-old Croatian said  “I think it is Nigeria.  Against Nigeria we play the first, and for us the most important game. That game will open or close the door of the World Cup for us. Therefore, we need to apply our full concentration.”
He added: “This is a great generation. Our motivation is at a high level. We want to get to the knockout stage, and with some luck we can achieve a great result.”
Both teams are meeting for the first time at the World Cup. The Croatians will rely on the likes of Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic of Juventus, Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic and Ivan Rakitic of Barcelona.
The Nigerian team is largely made up of young players, about 17 of them making their first World appearances.
The Eagles can also rely on the experience of skipper Mikel Obi, Victor Moses, Ahmed Musa and Odion Ighalo.
Obi, who is also looking forward to a good game, said: “It is the dream of every footballer to play at the FIFA World Cup and we have to live that dream on Saturday (tomorrow). Croatia is a very good team with a lot of top class players and we have to be at our very best against them.
“This group is probably the toughest in the tournament; everyone is calling it the ‘group of death’. That is the motivation. We have given ourselves the target of coming out of this group just like we did in the African qualifying group that everyone gave the same tag.
“As our coach has said, we worked hard at both the camp in Austria and since we got to the team base camp in Essentuki. Our Football Federation also did well to get us to prepare in very good places devoid of distraction and now, it is our responsibility to do the nation proud by starting well against Croatia.”
Tomorrow will mark Nigeria’s sixth appearance at the FIFA World Cup finals, in seven tournaments since their first appearance at the 1994 finals in the USA.
The only time Nigeria has missed football’s biggest showpiece in the last quarter –century was in 2006, when a head-to-head rule knocked out the Eagles despite finishing on equal points with Angola.
Yesterday’s opening match at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, watched by a crowd of 78,011, gave the crowd a lot to cheer with goals from  Denis Cheryshev (who got a brace), Artem Dzyuba, Iury Gazinsky and Aleksander Golovin scored the goals.
The opening ceremony was led by British pop star Robbie Williams and Russian soprano Aida Garifullina in a 15-minute period.
Part of the ceremony was the entrance of former Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas and Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova with the World Cup trophy in a Louis Vuitton travel case.
Williams later performed two hits — “Let Me Entertain You” and “Rock DJ” — alongside some dancers and freestylers.
He was thereafter joined in a duet by Garifullina, a soloist from the Vienna State Opera, to sing one of his (Williams) hit songs “Angels”.
Three matches will be played today
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