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Sports

Nigeria face test of charachter against 'Team Iceland'

media Iceland's players including Iceland's forward Johann Berg Gudmundsson (L) and Iceland's forward Alfred Finnbogason celebrate after the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualification football match between Iceland and Kosovo in Reykjavik, Iceland on October 9, 2017. Haraldur Gudjonsson / AFP

Nigeria can survey their future selves in their second Group D game on Friday against Iceland, according to the Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr.

The German has praised the work ethic and the absence of ego in Heimir Hallgrimsson’s World Cup debutants.

And the 64-year-old says the match in Volgograd offers a chance for his callow players to understand the joys of discipline and tactical nous.

“Iceland played a great opening match against Argentina and we know it will be very difficult to beat them," said Rohr on the eve of the clash. "They have very good players. They are playing like a team but so are we. They don’t have the big stars but neither do we so it will be a match of two collectives. One experienced – which is Iceland and one young - which is us.”

Nigeria, though, have far more World Cup experience. Since their debut in 1994, they have only failed to qualify for the 2006 extravaganza in Germany. And the west Africans have won their continental championship three times whereas Iceland made their first appearance at the European championships in 2016.

The Scandanavians, with a population of around 335,000 people, are punching well above their weight. And no matter what Rohr promulgates about inexperience, a nation boasting more than 180 million souls ought to produce a squad that blends both seasoned campaigners as well as raw youth.

But he has selected a band in which only four players are 30 or over and seven are 22 or under.

“You can tell that John Obi Mikel is a star,” said Rohr of his skipper’s 11 year career as a midfield general for Chelsea in the English Premier League. “Victor Moses is also well known everywhere,” he added. “But with so many young players, I hope they will be stars tomorrow. What I think is that we have a team for 2022 because when you are so young, you hope they will get better and better.”

Heimir Hallgrimsson, the Iceland boss, without as big a pool of talent, says his sights are set on the present. “Nigeria’s strength is that they are physically strong and good athletes. They play direct and are good on the counter. You have to give credit to the organisation of the coach.

He added: “Nigeria have improved tactically and have players in the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A, so they are used to quality day in day out.”

Tellingly, when urged to select a word to describe Iceland, Hallgrimsson replied: “Team.” The Rohr truth.

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