Nigeria might have lost what many considered to be a must-win match against Greece, but coach Lars Lagerback has told FIFA that still being in the hunt for a last 16 place is motivating the Super Eagles ahead of Tuesday's match with Korea Republic. He also insisted that he has been happy with his team's effort and level of performance in each of their first two contests.
Looking at the opening defeat to Argentina, a team he described as “one of the best in the world,” the former Sweden boss said he had no regrets, a theme he returned to when conversation switched to the Greek loss, which saw Sani Kaita sent off in the 33rd minute. “It is always easy afterwards to think about, if you’d done that or done that, but you never get the right answer because even if we had done something else, maybe we might have lost by two or three goals instead,” he said. “In a way, you can never say you played well when you lose, but I think the first game [against Argentina], for the most part, the players had a really good game. We had a good team performance and we defended rather well.
"In the second game we played exactly the way I wanted in the first 30 minutes until we had the sending off. Then it is always difficult to handle a sending off, maybe we got a little bit too passive, and we should have been a little more aggressive."
I’ve never experienced that before, that you have two losses and yet still have a chance to go through.
On the Kaita red card, Lagerback rued the match's turning point, particularly as the Nigerians were a goal ahead before succumbing to strikes in either half by the UEFA EURO 2004 champions. He said that they talk about discipline before every match, and he called Kaita “a very good player and a good person,” saying of his moment of madness: “That is something that happens to many people.”
The 61-year-old admitted that the Super Eagles were surprised to still be in with a chance of qualifying from Group B. If they beat the South Koreans and Argentina take three points from Greece, the west Africans can qualify for the second round for the third time in their history.
“I’ve never experienced that before, that you have two losses and yet still have a chance to go through,” he said. “Of course that has helped us a lot to keep focused on what we are doing. So now we are really looking forward to the game and we can really show how good the Super Eagles are, and I think we can play a really good game against the South Koreans.”
Looking ahead to the challenge against the 2002 semi-finalists, who beat Greece before losing to Argentina 4-1, Lagerback said they are a strong team but possess a weakness that the first two games have unearthed. “They run a lot, they have good technical skills, and they are also rather quick, and they want to attack,” he said. “Maybe that is one weakness, the only one that I can find, if you win the ball in good positions and then go for it really quickly then maybe they are a little bit unorganised.
“I think that they could be a good style for us to play against, so I’m positive about it, and I think that it could be an interesting game anyway, and hopefully an open and attacking game from both teams.”