Gernot Rohr presided over a fantastic Africa Zone qualifying series with the Nigeria Super Eagles, picked a squad that was largely devoid of criticisms for Russia, for these, he deserves great credit.
At the main event in Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup – football’s greatest tournament – I submit that Rohr failed his team. He betrayed them even.
When the final whistle went at the St Petersburg stadium in Russia pulling the curtains on the Super Eagles campaign following the defeat to Argentina, the abiding feeling was that of “we really should not have lost this match”.
As an organisation we have covered this band of Super Eagles better than most from the qualifiers through to St Petersburg so the affinity was getting deep hence this defeat and ouster hurt. Badly.
Going into the tournament I wrote here that following the performances throughout their friendlies, the team would be best served playing with 3 centre-backs and wing backs. In that same column I noted that skipper John Mikel Obi will serve the team better by playing in the Defensive Midfield role he excelled at Chelsea.
Against Croatia in the opening game the Super Eagles of Nigeria lined up in a 4-3-3 (or 4-2-3-1) formation with Mikel still in the no 10 role. A dire performance was rewarded with defeat in a match in which they barely laid a glove on the Croatia team offensively.
Asked in the press conference why he went with that formation, Rohr gave a strange answer that Croatia played with two strikers so he needed to have a flat back four (I am paraphrasing his rather confusing answer that night in Kalliningrad).
I asked him why he had persisted with Mikel in the no 10 role and he said that “Mikel was instrumental to how the team played during the qualifiers and we won a lot of matches there”. Clearly Herr Rohr did not expect the standards to to be much higher at the World Cup than during the African qualifiers. We will pretend that the first half against England at Wembley and the defeat to Czech Rep did not happen.
The biggest indictment on him was that against both Iceland and Argentina the team played the 3 CBs formation with wing backs and played much better. The decision to not play to his players’ strengths in that formation in the opening game was a betrayal.
A coach/manager earns his pay and reputation by tough decision made before and during matches. Against Argentina Gernot Rohr let his players down by his decisions as the match wore on. I have watched World Cup matches that I can recall dating back to the 1982 edition, this is by far the poorest Argentina side I have watched at a World Cup.
They still were Argentina and they have a certain Lionel Messi, with the whole world supporting the Barcelona player to get through the group. However, barring the first 25 minutes of the first half the Super Eagles stood toe-to-toe with them and really should not be out of the tournament. Messi was anonymous most of the second-half.
In the 79th minute or thereabouts Argentina brought on Sergio Aguero to join Gonzalo Higuain in attack as Jorge Sampaoli got desperate. A minute later a great chance was fashioned with a cut back finding the Juve striker but he blazed high and over the bar. Not uncharacteristically, to be perfectly honest.
I looked up away to my right to the scoreboard and at the time – it was into the 81st minute. Nigeria had 2 more subs left. I was willing Rohr to get John Ogu into that midfield so we could get more control of the ball as the South Americans were now pushing more men forward.
Bryan Idowu, Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa – to name these three – were tired. 10 minutes plus stoppage time left, scores level, 2 subs left, how on earth does Rohr explain not helping his players out by bringing on fresh legs? Situation was crying out for input and impetus from the bench but unfortunately none was forthcoming.
I have tried many angles an thoughts to understand why no sub came on and I just can’t find any justification for it. There were so many options he could have used. Shehu Abdullahi or Tyronne Ebuehi could have come on to help Moses – with the Chelsea man pushed further up. The earlier option of Ogu or Onazi to bring experience and calm into possession.
I thought it absolutely disgraceful that it seemed that the whole of the Western world were on a mission to get Messi through to the knock-out stages of the world cup. What is even more painful is that feeling that we had it in our hands to knock Argentina out but inept technical input at this the highest of levels cost us.
I lived through the defeat to Italy at Nigeria’s first World Cup excursion in 1994 and it still hurts. This is hurting just as much and I hold Gernot Rohr responsible.