- Ahmed Musa looks back on Nigeria’s Russia 2018 qualification campaign
- Striker returning to Russia after a four-season spell with CSKA Moscow
- The Super Eagles have been drawn against Argentina, Croatia, and Iceland
One of Africa’s strongest sides, Nigeria have featured at every FIFA World Cup™ since USA 1994, with the exception of Germany 2006. On their last appearance, at Brazil 2014, they won through to the Round of 16 with fellow African side Algeria.
With their team having missed the last two CAF Africa Cup of Nations, Nigeria fans were hoping for better in the qualifiers for Russia 2018, and they got it. Drawn with Algeria, Cameroon, and Zambia in the final round of qualifying, the Super Eagles rose to the challenge and secured their place in the world finals under the guidance of German coach Gernot Rohr.
Speaking to FIFA.com, Nigeria forward Ahmed Musa looked back on their successful campaign: “We’re delighted to be making the trip to Russia. We were in a tough group with Algeria, Cameroon, and Zambia. It wasn’t easy to finish first, but we’re delighted to have reached our objective.
“We got off to a good start with a win away to Zambia, and then we beat Algeria at home,” he added. “That gave us confidence and we pushed on from that to qualify.”
Nigeria clinched their ticket to Russia 2018 with a game to spare, an outcome that surprised even Musa: “We thought, to begin with, that it would all come down to the last match against Algeria. We didn’t think we’d have qualified already, bearing in mind the standard of the group.”
Reflecting on the level of determination in the Nigeria camp, the Leicester City man said: “When we realised we weren’t going to make it to the Africa Cup of Nations [last year], we decided that we were going to fight for the people of Nigeria. We now need to try and make the 2019 continental finals after missing the last two.”
Nigeria have been given a tall order in Group D. They will take on Iceland, who excelled themselves at UEFA EURO 2016 and in the Russia 2018 qualifiers, Croatia and their star men Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric, and Ivan Rakitic, and Argentina, with whom they crossed swords in Brazil.
Musa scored a brace in the 3-2 defeat to La Albiceleste four years ago, a match in which Lionel Messi also got on the scoresheet twice. The striker hopes to get in among the goals again in Russia, and is unconcerned about the opposition they have to face: “It doesn’t matter who we come up against; we’ll be giving it our best shot at the World Cup. We’ll be trying our hardest in every match, no matter the opposition.”
5 – the number of times Nigeria have been drawn with Argentina in the group phase at the World Cup. The Super Eagles lost 2-1 to La Albiceleste at USA 1994, 1-0 at Korea/Japan 2002, 1-0 at South Africa 2010, and 3-2 at Brazil 2014. Can they improve on that record this time around?
Return to Russia
Though they face stiff opposition in Group D, Nigeria are looking to improve on their run to the last 16 at Brazil 2014.
Discussing their objectives, Musa said: “We need to set our sights high. Nigeria want to do more than just get past the group phase. We want to make the quarter-finals and even the semis. Why not?”
Musa knows what to expect in Russia, having spent four seasons with CSKA Moscow. The forward scored 53 goals in 169 appearances for the club between 2012 and 2016, the best years of his career to date.
So what does he make of his return to the scene of his finest exploits? “I hope I get selected. The World Cup is a very important event for any player.”
Nigeria’s Group D matches at Russia 2018:
Croatia – Nigeria (16 June, Kaliningrad Stadium)
Nigeria – Iceland (22 June, Volgograd Arena)
Nigeria – Argentina (26 June, Saint Petersburg Stadium)
This article first appeared on Fifa.com