Nigeria’s top players needed persuasion to change positions in a tactical shake-up but coach Gernot Rohr’s plans paid dividends as they beat Iceland 2-0 on Friday to get back in contention to progress to the World Cup's last 16.
Skipper John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses had to be cajoled into new roles as Rohr heeded the criticism that followed his side’s opening Group D defeat by Croatia.
Obi Mikel was used as an attacking midfielder throughout Nigeria’s qualifying campaign but a lacklustre showing in Kaliningrad on Saturday meant he was asked to drop into a more defensive role against Iceland.
Moses, usually allowed to roam up front for Nigeria, was put to work as a right wing back against Iceland and after a tepid first half helped his side to win three points by setting up the opening goal for Ahmed Musa.
“We changed our strategy and organisation, playing 3-5-2 with Victor Moses playing in the place where he plays at Chelsea and the captain came back to the position that he plays in Chia and used to play at Chelsea before,” Rohr told reporters.
“I think it worked out well. They did this for the country, for the team. It was not easy to convince them but in the end they did it well. It gave us more space and the speed proved decisive for us.”
But Nigeria were slow to get out of the blocks and became the first team not to have a shot in the first half of a World Cup game since South Korea against Algeria in Brazil four years ago.
“In the second half it was a different team because they realised at half-time that we had to do much more. We played against a very good team from Iceland who were better in the first half but did not score and we were better in the second half,” Rohr added.
Nigeria’s victory lifted them second in the group, behind Croatia who have qualified. They must avoid defeat against Argentina on Tuesday if they are to stand any chance of reaching the knockout stages.