Five months ago, Gernot Rohr came under heavy criticism after Nigeria failed to beat Sierra Leone in their doubleheader 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
The Super Eagles had blown a four-goal lead in the first leg at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin, before playing out a drab draw in the return leg at Freetown.
Criticism trailed Rohr and the players following the two clashes, with some fans even suggesting the German should be given the boot.
But the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) stuck with their man, and five months later, Rohr has worked his magic again.
The Super Eagles sealed qualification for the rescheduled 2021 Africa Cup of Nations even before playing a game in the final rounds of the qualifiers.
Rohr was appointed as Nigeria’s national team coach in 2016 after the team failed to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
And during this period, he has led the team to two major tournaments with a game to spare on those two occasions. Rohr’s first task was to qualify Nigeria for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and he did just that brilliantly.
The Super Eagles were drawn against former African champions Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia, but they went through the whole qualifying campaign unbeaten and sealed qualification with a game left.
Following a group stage exit at the World Cup, the focus shifted towards qualifying for the 2019 Africa Cup of nations, and once again, the team qualified unbeaten with a game to spare.
Two years later, Rohr has once again sealed qualification unbeaten and with two games to spare. After the disastrous outing against Sierra Leone, the Super Eagles needed a point from their final two games to qualify.
But they sealed qualification before playing as Sierra Leone could only manage a draw against Lesotho. However, the Super Eagles still rounded up their qualification campaign with wins over the Benin Republic and Lesotho.
It means Rohr remains undefeated in qualifiers as Super Eagles manager, and that’s an impressive record irrespective of his questionable tactical selections.
But while Rohr duly deserves the praise for his record in qualifiers, the German tactician is now at a crucial period in his reign as the Super Eagles manager.
By the time the 2021 Afcon kicks off next year, it’ll be Rohr’s third major tournament as Nigeria’s, and anything short of at least a final place would be considered a disappointment.
The German tactician’s record in his two previous tournaments with the team is not impressive. The Super Eagles suffered a group stage exit at the 2018 World Cup and finished third at 2019 Afcon.
Rohr has always played the “young team” card after the team’s exit at both tournaments, but he can’t play that card now.
The 67-year-old signed a two-year extension deal last year, which means by the time his contract expires, he would’ve stayed as the Super Eagles manager for six and a half years, making him the longest-serving Nigerian coach.
This August will be his fifth year in charge of the team, and a core of the players in the current squad was also in the team when he started.
He has already taken the team to two international competitions, which means the players have enough experience now.
Also, when he signed his new two-year deal last year, he was given the target to win the Nations Cup and lead the team to the FIFA World Cup next year.
And that makes the next 12 months a crucial period for the former Gabon manager. The Super Eagles are one of the favourites for next year’s Afcon, given the quality of the players in the team.
This put a lot of pressure on Rohr, especially after the team finished third at the 2019 edition. Meanwhile, the team starts their World Cup qualifying campaign in May, and that’s another dimension of pressure for the German.
On paper, the Super Eagles should breeze through a group that has Cape Verde, Liberia and the Central African Republic.
But the real test will come in November when the ten group winners are paired against each other in a playoff format to determine Africa’s five representatives.
Failure to pass this test could be fatal for Rohr, who may not even get the chance to lead the team to next year’s Afcon.
The 67-year-old has enjoyed the privileges that were not afforded to his predecessors and has also been given a free hand by the NFF.
It was a fact confirmed by the man himself in an interview on Hip Tv. And with a quality squad that now has the experience of playing in two major international competitions, Rohr has no excuse not to deliver the targets set for him.
The German has an impressive record in the qualifiers, but he needs to replicate it in major competitions.
In fairness, Rohr has done well since he arrived, especially with the team’s stability, but the next 12 months will determine his legacy as the Super Eagles manager.