Nigeria can do well at the upcoming World Cup, despite again being drawn into a tough group, but must not rely on individual talent if they want to advance past the first round, former national coach Sunday Oliseh is warning.
The Super Eagles have been pooled with Argentina for fifth time in six finals appearances and also take on Croatia and Iceland, opening their Group D campaign in Kaliningrad against the Croats on June 16.
“It’s a great group. They’ve got Iceland, Croatia and Argentina, who seem to follow us all around,” Oliseh told KweséESPN. “When I played, the only time they were not in our group was in France.”
The midfielder and former Eagles head coach appeared at the 1994 and 1998 finals, and is renowned for the sensational long-range goal he scored against Spain in Nantes.
“I think Nigeria can do well. We have a young group. The only problem is that football is no longer individual, it’s changed dramatically,” he added.
“Over the past nine years it has gone from success based on just having quality players, and the coach is just standing on the sides, to a level where it is more scientific and more team orientated.
“That’s why teams like Iceland are very dangerous. Iceland qualified without going through the play-offs…they went directly.”
Oliseh, who coached Nigeria for eight months before quitting the job and is now in charge of Dutch second division side Fortuna Sittard, is well acquainted with Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson.
“He was my classmate from the UEFA professional license course in England. We graduated on the same day. Quiet guy but very smart. He’s a dentist, you know, because they are all amateurs.”
As to the other two teams, there will be no let-up,” Oliseh continued.
“Now, if you face a team like Croatia, who have [Luka] Modric, then you have a lot of work cut out for you in the midfield.
“Argentina with Messi is always tough,” he continued. “Messi will always be tough.
“Nigeria, on the other hand, we’ve got strength, technique and pace. So I think we can be optimistic.”
However, Oliseh also warns that the days of Nigeria relying on their raw talent and the technical skills in their squad are over.
“The reality of football today is that if you are going to be an influential player at the World Cup then you should already be an influential player in the European league,” he added. “You must be really solid in a top European league because at the World Cup, the level is too high.
“With all due respect to qualifying in Africa, it’s not the same standard.
“The World Cup proper and is totally different to the qualifying competition. You come up against teams that are well rounded, prepared, tactically sound, so if your game is based on individual talent, your game will be neutralised, in a much easier manner than you could imagine.
“We are not talking about Nigeria alone now, but any African nation that is going to Russia hoping to base their performance on individual talent will have problems.”