Tianjin Teda of China midfeidler, John Mikel Obi has declared that Croatia should drop any idea of resting key players for their last group match against Iceland on Tuesday, in order not to accord the World Cup debutants an undue advantage in the race to round of 16 tickets.
Nigeria will have to beat Argentina and hope Iceland do not exert same treatment on Croatia in order for the Super Eagles to qualify seamlessly into the next round at Russia 2018, but Mikel believes it would not be a fair fight should the Croats play at limited strength.
Nigeria can qualify for the last sixteen if they beat Argentina or if the game ends in a draw and Iceland fail to beat Croatia.
However, Mikel is alarmed that Croatia’s manager, Zlatko Dalic plans to rest players against Iceland and there is talk that he will make ten changes to the line-up that faced Argentina.
Consequently, the Eagles’ skipper stressed that he does not want Croatia to rest their key players in Tuesday’s final Group D match with Iceland after they sealed their spot in the next round with a comprehensive win over Argentina.
Nonetheless, Mikel is confident that Nigeria will be the third team to stop Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi from scoring at the 2018 World Cup after Iceland and Croatia showed the way.
Including youth level games, Messi has four goals and assists against Nigerian teams in only five appearances and could become the first player to score at the World Cup as a teenager, in his twenties as well as in his thirties if he finds the net against the Eagles on Tuesday.
Messi, who celebrated his 31st birthday on Saturday, first scored at the World Cup in the 2006 edition against Serbia at the age of eighteen, then netted in South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014 while in his twenties.
Mikel said: ”It is always difficult facing Argentina, this game is a do or die game, it is not like the first game of the group or the second game, this is the last game of the group. We have to die on the pitch.
”It’s obviously very hard to defend against him. We have to play our game as well and make sure we create chances and score goals.
“Both teams so far have done really well defending him, we have to see what we can do, how we can make sure we defend against him, not just against him but against the whole team.
”This is a massive tournament – you can’t rest people and give others a chance of qualification. They should be professional and play their best team. This is such a big stage that you can’t rest players just to help other teams to qualify.”