Nigeria 2-0 Iceland | Nigeria take all three points in strong counter attacking display

Nigeria 2-0 Iceland | FI

Nigeria faced World Cup debutants Iceland in their second group game of the tournament, having lost their opening game to Croatia, the Super Eagles needed a result to have any chance of qualifying for the knockout stages. Iceland on the other hand had a lot to be encouraged about in their first game after fighting out a 1-1 draw with Argentina, however, they too needed a win to put them in a strong position ahead of the final game. The match made for an interesting spectacle.



To deal with the task before him Nigeria’s head coach Gernot Rohr opted for a change in system, ditching the 4-2-3-1 he used against the Croats, the German went for a 5-3-2 formation; he also made three personnel changes with Kenneth Omeruo, Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa coming in for Odion Ighalo, Alex Iwobi and Shehu.

(5-3-2) Francis Uzoho / Victor Moses – Leon Balogun – William Troost-Ekong – Kenneth Omeruo – Idowu / Mikel – Ndidi – Etebo / Iheanacho – Musa

Coach: Gernot Rohr


(4-4-2) Thor Halldorsson / Magnusson – Ragnar Sigurdsson – Kari Arnasson – Saevarsson / Aron Gunnarsson – Gylfi Sigurdsson – Birkir Bjanarson – Gislasson / Finbogasson – Bodvarsson

Coach: Heimir Halgrimsson


Nigeria 2-0 Iceland | FI

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In the first half, both sides were extremely cagey leading to a rather boring game with Nigeria dominating possession but not really doing much to penetrate Iceland’s defensive block. In building up from the back, Nigeria used a static back three with the two sixes, Mikel and Ndidi playing in a 1-1 shape.

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The image shows the positioning of the Nigerian midfield trio, with Mikel, Ndidi and Etebo conditioning Iceland’s first two blocks: Ndidi stays outside the block while Mikel stays higher in the 1-1 shape. Etebo stays between the lines to connect the team.

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This image shows Nigeria building up through the right wing with Iheanacho and Musa coming over to combine with Moses who has moved up higher than Idowu who stayed back slightly for balance

The wing backs Moses and Idowu stayed higher up the pitch though Moses was the more advanced of the two; as a consequence, Nigeria focused their attacking efforts through the right hand side with Moses using his strong dribbling abilities both to resist pressure and combine with Iheanacho and Etebo or Mikel – whichever of them was in the vicinity of the ball; this aided in Nigeria’s ball retention allowing them to have the lion’s share of the ball possession in the first half. Unfortunately, not much end product came from all this as the Super Eagles finished the first half with zero shots on goal, their attacks generally ending with crosses into the box but with no Ighalo to challenge the tall Icelandic centre backs, Iheanacho and Musa found themselves in positions of qualitative inferiority and could do nothing.

Both teams depended a lot on set piece situations for their attacking efforts, even taking throw ins as an opportunity to send men into the box. Iceland generally made better use of these situations, threatening the Nigerian goal on several occasions. Nigeria had had several issues with defending set pieces in the build up to the world cup and these problems surfaced against Croatia. In this game however, they were better able to deal with the threat from crosses both from open play and set pieces due to the extra man in their central defense; they also ditched their previous man marking system which cost them against Croatia to a more zonal oriented one which afforded them better protection

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Nigeria defending a set piece situation in a zonal manner, making them more difficult to be dragged around by runs and ensuring that there is adequate support to clear any loose balls

Iceland for their part sought to attack as directly as possible with a very strong emphasis on wing second balls and utilizing set pieces. Just like in their first game against Argentina, they avoided building up from the back to prevent turnovers in their own half and sought to utilize set piece situations to the maximum; in the few moments when they had any sort of sustained possession in Nigeria’s half, they sought to play to their full backs who played early crosses into the box for the forwards to attack while supported by Sigurdsson with runs from deep. They did create some promising situations in the first half but between the three centre backs and the Goalkeeper Uzoho, Nigeria coped fairly well with everything they threw at them.

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#passmap of Iceland courtesy of @11tegen11 using Opta data. The pass map shows their focus on crosses into the box and high central occupation to facilitate the second ball structure.


In the second half, Nigeria altered their approach slightly, with less emphasis on crosses into the box due to the ineffectiveness in the first half, they began to play more into feet, using their extra man in midfield to resist Icelandic pressure and find Iheanacho dropping between the lines. The Europeans found it difficult to press with any effectiveness and Nigeria were able to establish comfortable possession and break through the lines a couple of times. Etebo began to carry the ball more and Iceland found it difficult to gain any sort of foothold in the match.

In the end, both goals came in transition with Nigeria’s pace proving too much for Iceland. The result gives them a strong chance of qualification should they avoid defeat against Argentina and on this evidence, why not?