After performing poorly in their World Cup warm up matches, Nigeria national team has a lot to prove to over 180 million fans that they can soar in Russia.

The Super Eagles will fly out of their Avita Resort in Bad Tatzmannsdorf, Austria to Russia on Monday for the 21st FIFA World Cup finals – their sixth appearance in seven finals since making a memorable debut in the USA in 1994.

Since emerging from an appropriately –styled ‘Group of Death’ in the African qualifying series, becoming the first African team to reach the finals in Russia, the Eagles have played against Argentina, Poland, Serbia, DR Congo, England and Czech Republic in friendlies, winning two, drawing one and losing three.

Victories over two –time world champions Argentina and Poland were followed by defeat by Serbia, a draw with the Democratic Republic of Congo and losses to England and the Czech Republic.

Coach Gernot Rohr would be the first to admit that the statistics from these friendly encounters are not head –turning, but he insisted at the weekend, just as Captain Mikel Obi did few days earlier, that the underdog tag that has come as a result suits the three –time African champions nicely.

“We are okay with the garb of the underdog. But the defeats have done something for us – we have our heads firmly on our shoulders and we are focused.

“Together, we have reviewed the matches and learnt so many lessons. We will approach the World Cup matches differently,” said Rohr.

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Nigeria’s first match of the finals is against Croatia on Saturday, with the Eagles logging a balanced record of having won their opening match at the World Cup on two occasions, drawn once and lost twice.

On the three occasions they have not lost their opening match (1994, 1998, 2014), the Eagles have progressed to the Round of 16.

An underwhelming recent record, being the lowest –ranked team in Group D and the lowest –ranked African team in the finals, plus a recent tag by FIFA as mere ‘perennial World Cup appearance –makers’ all tend to project the Eagles as a side waiting to be rolled over.

That would be the biggest mistake of the so –called big teams.

In 1994, the Eagles, after winning the Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia, failed to excite in friendly games leading to the World Cup. But as debutants, they thrashed Bulgaria 3-0 on a sunny afternoon inside the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Four years later, they lost 1-5 to Netherlands in their last friendly game before heading to France, only to shock World Cup favourites Spain 3-2 in their opening game at the Stade de la Beaujoire in Nantes.

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