Mikel Obi: Nigeria 'happy' with World Cup underdogs tag

By Oluwashina OkelejiBBC Sport, Nigeria
Mikel Obi
Nigeria captain John Mikel Obi, who plays his club football in China with Super League side Tianjin TEDA

World Cup-bound Nigeria are "more than happy with being written off," according to captain John Mikel Obi.

The Super Eagles have been paired with Argentina for the fifth time in six World Cup appearances in Group D of the tournament in Russia.

They will also face tough European pair, Croatia and Iceland in the group.

Ranked (47th) below all three Group D opponents in the Fifa world rankings, the West Africans have been tipped to struggle, a tag the team relishes.

"Honestly, people didn't expect us to qualify but we are off to Russia and now it's all about the rankings," the former Chelsea midfielder told BBC Sport.

"When you look at the group I'd say we are more than happy for people to write us off and very happy to be the underdogs.

"It takes the pressure off the shoulders of our young squad and we can go about our World Cup with humility, which is perfectly fine.

"Football is played on the pitch and not by rankings or permutations," Mikel Obi added.

Two-time world champions Argentina have beaten Nigeria four times at the World Cup, with the Super Eagles losing by the odd goal in each of the matches.

The South Americans edged Nigeria 2-1 in 1994, 1-0 in 2002 and 2010, as well as the thrilling 3-2 result at the last World Cup tournament in Brazil.

But the three-time African champions are not short on confidence going into next month's tournament after defeating Argentina 4-2 in a friendly in Krasnodar last November and beating Poland away in March.

"We've got a blend of experience and a young squad playing without fear but with passion, which is good for us on the road to Russia," he added.

"We have friendlies against DR Congo (28 May), England (2 June) and Czech Republic (6 June) that will help us finalise our World Cup preparations.

"From the first game at the World Cup our target would be to keep progressing as a team and take it from there."

Africa's most populous nation will start their campaign in Russia against Croatia on 16 June, then face Iceland on 22 June before finishing with Argentina four days later.

Nigeria reached the round of 16 in 1994, 1998 and 2014 but were knocked out of the 2002 and 2010 tournaments in the group stages.

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