Nigeria, over the past four days moved significant steps towards confirming qualification for next year’s FIFA World Cup with impressive displays against African Champions Cameroon.
Comfortably at the summit of their group before Match Days 3 and 4, the Super Eagles made a mince-meat of the Indomitable Lions in Uyo on September 1 before earning a creditable point three days later in Yaounde to move to within a point of qualification with two games to spare.
Franco-German trainer Gernot Rohr has had a good start to his reign as the team handler, winning five of his nine games in charge while drawing three and losing one.
Monday’s draw against Cameroon in Yaounde presented our Chief Football Writer Fisayo Dairo who was among the over 30,000 attendants at the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo with a complete dosage of all factors that Mr Rohr has oozed ever since taking charge of the team last summer.
Faith in senior players
Every successful manager possesses this key attribute – having full belief in the ability of their employees to deliver regardless of their limitations. Gernot Rohr, an experienced manager he is has displayed such traits mostly to the good of the team.
To many Nigerians, performances of senior members of the team, Ogenyi Onazi and most especially left back Elderson Echiejile have become untenable and a cog in the wheel of the team’s success. Rohr however has stuck with the duo and has enjoyed a calm dressing room marched with results on the pitch. I also believe that the much maligned Daniel Akpeyi would have played should he be fit for these games.
Rohr must keep up this trait for team unity and also know when and where to draw a line to it without any ripple effects.
Awareness of the African terrain
Since 2010, Rohr has been in Africa, managing different African national teams including last AFCON hosts Gabon and 2013 AFCON losing finalists, Burkina Faso. These experiences have come in handy in his first year of working in Nigeria, the biggest African footballing nation he has ever managed.
The 64-year old has made some key decisions in crucial away games, one that depicts his in-depth knowledge of the peculiarity of African football. One of such was in Ndola last October when he deployed Wilfred Ndidi as a narrow right back for the team to cope with the physicality of the Zambians and upfront, a Brown Ideye to act as foil for Kelechi Iheanacho.
On Monday, Ndidi was once again the joker for Rohr as he was made to play in a deeper, less adventurous role, quite opposite of what he did on Friday in Uyo. That helped the team’s impregnable shape on the night as the Cameroonians ultimately failed to break through it.
From the way Nigeria set up, it was obvious the plan from onset was to allow the Lions the ball while we maintain shape and look to harm them through our four forward players (Mikel inclusive) when we have it. It worked well, for about an hour or so.
When Mikel Agu replaced his boyhood hero Mikel Obi, it was a little after Cameroon made two attacking changes which promised to make them more dangerous. Hence, Agu who is a defensive or at best central midfielder is not a “Number 10” and with his level of international experience, it would neither help the lad nor the team. Rohr merely repeated his Uyo substitution which is startling, seeing that they were two different situations.
Nigeria’s second change was also questionable – Iheanacho replacing Odion Ighalo – another case of “repeating Uyo substitution”. Nigeria lost the plot during these period until Ogenyi Onazi incurred a booking which knocked Rohr back to consciousness, replacing him with Oghene Etebo with Agu reverting to a more accustomed central midfield role. That helped Nigeria in eventually seeing off the match more comfortably.
As seen against South Africa in June how his choices affected the team, Rohr must always ensure to make his changes in line with game situations, always.
No proper replacements for the ‘Magic 3′
Under Rohr, Nigeria have been devastating when the trio of Leon Balogun, captain John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses are on the pitch but same cannot be said in their absence.
Balogun was limping at a point in the first half on Monday night and you don’t want to imagine him going off for a Chidozie Awaziem in a game of such magnitude. Much has been said of the absence of Mikel against South Africa in June and also when he was replaced on Monday night and for Victor Moses, it is no coincidence that Nigeria’s failure to qualify for the last two AFCON tournaments have coincided with his absence from the team.
It remains a growing concern how the Eagles can solve these before next summer’s World Cup.
Gernot Rohr has earned 69% and that is still a B so he must work for that remaining mark to attain distinction level. With Balogun’s injury record, he must bring back Kasimpasa’s Kenneth Omeruo, the most experienced defender the Eagles have with his club future already resolved.
Also, he must choose to extend his trust to John Ogu now or never and have a look in at Yeni Malatyaspor’s Azubuike Okechukwu, the one regarded as Onazi’s perfect replacement. In attack and with the Iwobi-Simon combination proving substandard against South Africa, he must also start looking at using a different set-up that would allow for playing more centrally in games when the “Magic 3” is absent or incomplete.
What is your own observation even in the midst of our euphoria after 4 points from 2 games against the “Domitable” Lions? Share your thoughts at the comments section below.