“They (fans) can believe the players will fight for all Nigerian supporters and will give the best. I think we are ready for this match”
These were Gernot Rohr’s words ahead of Nigeria’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Sierra Leone in Freetown on Tuesday.
The Super Eagles had blown a four-goal lead in the first leg at the Samuel Ogbemudia stadium last Friday and were hoping to put things right in the second leg at Freetown.
Before the clash at the Siaka Stevens Stadium, the players and manager were in bullish mood, saying they would secure nothing but victory for Nigerians.
However, what followed was an uninspiring 0-0 draw in one of the worst pitches for a professional football match. It was more like playing on a land where a farmer grows his potatoes.
The stadium should not have even been given the greenlight to host the game and that’s an embarrassment to CAF. Even the broadcast was an eyesore and it was more like a secondary school inter-class competition.
Everything about the game was poor and a poor display of African football. Nonetheless, while the pitch contributed to Nigeria’s flat performance, Rohr’s tactical limitations were exposed once again, and it raises the question as to whether the German tactician can take the team beyond this level.
Rohr took over as the Super Eagles manager in 2016 and during this period, he has led Nigeria to two major tournaments.
Nigeria qualified for the 2018 World Cup with a game to play under his tutelage while they also repeat the same feat for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, where they finished in third position.
Although the reactions were mixed over Nigeria’s performance at the two tournaments, it was enough to earn Rohr a contract renewal in May.
The decision to reward Rohr with a new two-year deal divided a lot of people, but at the end, it looked like a good decision given the work he has done.
The former Bordeaux manager has not only led the Super Eagles to two major competitions with a game to spare, he has also brought in stability to the team.
However, since he signed the new two-year deal, the Super Eagles performances have dwindled and it suggests that Rohr has reached his peak with the team.
The three-time African champions played just four games in 2020 due to Covid-19, but in those four games, the Super Eagles failed to win any.
While it is not a disaster, it is the performance of the team in these games that has not gone down well with fans, which is why Rohr come in for harsh criticisms.
The German tactician has done well with the integration of foreign-born players in the squad, but his squad selection in the last four games has been questioned.
Nigeria first game after the ex-Bayern Munich man signed a new deal was a 1-0 loss to Algeria. Although it’s not a disgrace to lose to the current African champions, Rohr’s tactics contributed to the loss.
There was an improvement in the second game against Tunisia, which ended in a draw. Still, it wasn’t a convincing performance from the Super Eagles.
Despite Nigeria’s failure to win in both games, Rohr was excused given the two games were international friendlies and it was hoped he has learnt from it.
However, his 24-man squad for the doubleheader against Sierra Leone raised further questions. Rohr had four midfielders in his list and one of them was Tyronne Ebuehi, who is a defender.
Frank Onyeka, who was also invited, withdrew from the squad, leaving Nigeria with just two midfielders (Oghenekaro Etebo and Joe Aribo) going into the two qualifiers.
In the first leg, the Super Eagles midfield was begging for fresh legs, but with no options on the bench, Aribo and Etebo finished the match.
And that’s why it wasn’t a surprise to see the Leone Stars score three times in the last 20 minutes to seal an incredible comeback.
The second-leg was a stark opposite of the first encounter with no goals. But it could have been different had Rohr gone with the right personnel.
Given the pitch was a disaster and impossible to play on, it would have been ideal to play for direct football with Paul Onuachu leading the line.
However, Rohr went with Kelechi Iheanacho in attack with Ahmed Musa and Samuel Chuwkueze the supporting casts.
The players struggled throughout and the team failed to muster a shot on target. A culmination of these questionable tactics hints Rohr may not be able take Nigeria beyond this level.
It is unlikely he will get the sack even though the Minister of Youth and Sports, Sunday Dare, called him incompetent and wants him gone.
As he just signed a new contract, the financial implications of sacking him is not what the Nigeria Football Federation can afford right now.
Also, it does not make sense to pull the trigger now because the Super Eagles are still on course to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations.
When Rohr signed his new deal, two of the objectives laid out for him was winning the Nations Cup and leading the team to the 2022 World Cup.
The two goals are not out of reach, but it could be a tall order for Rohr as he may have reached his peak with Nigeria.