Many Nigerians felt like they were hit by a fast, furious car when the Super Eagles lost 1-0 to the lowly-rated Central Republic of Africa in a World Cup qualifier right in front of 5,000 Lagos fans on Thursday. That a player who plays for a fourth division side in France was the scorer against the Eagles, packed with stars who are playing for top clubs in Europe, added to the anguish suffered by many Nigerians, and that inevitably raised the questions about the capacity of Gernot Rohr to successfully manage a star-studded Nigerian team.
Striker Victor Osimhen had scored seven goals in just five games; Awoniyi has eight goals across all competitions so far to become one of the hottest strikers in the German Bundesliga just as Kelechi Iheancho signed off from Leicester before the game with a goal while Moses Simon Simon was named Rennes’ best player for two consecutive seasons in France. All of these stars were on the field and couldn’t produce at least a shot on goal against CAR that is rated 120th in the world.
Crazy things happen in football but some pundits believe the shambolic showing of the Eagles on Thursday was a product of technical inefficiency and the accusing fingers are inevitably pointed at Rohr. One of such pundits is Segun Odegbami, a Nigerian legend who incidentally played his first senior game for Nigeria against CAR. He was shocked that despite the intimidating pedigree of the Eagles, they could still bow to a lowly-rated Central Africans in Lagos. He said Rohr had been unconvincing since he took over the team more than five years ago and he lent credence to that assertion with the shambolic showing of his team on Thursday.
“High expectations by Nigerians at this time were not unfounded,” the former Eagles captain said. “Many of the Nigerian players all over Europe have been performing well. Nigeria had never been more patient with a coach (foreign or local), no coach had given Nigerians the sort of heartbreaks at crucial times. No coach has also earned more money and done so little to justify it by impacting the domestic leagues; no coach has been more vigorously defended by his Nigerian employers for work not done with results. ‘CAR are a middle-level national team in African football; almost one hundred places below Nigeria on the world rankings, and almost 30 below her in Africa.
The two teams do not belong on the same planet; I cannot recall a single match played (not even won) by CAR that created even the gentlest of ripples. I am struggling very hard not to be disrespectful to the country; in sport, anything is possible, except that CAR would come to the hallowed ground in Nigeria and defeat the ‘giant’.
That is impossible.” But it happened and something close to that almost occurred when Sierra Leone came from a 4-0 down to get a 4-4 draw in Benin City, Edo State, last year. Rohr is the longest-serving coach in Nigeria; not even Clemence Westerhof enjoyed the stability the German has seen since he took over and despite the boom and burst that has characterised his reign, there had never been a serious threat to his work. Although he has qualified the team to the 2008 World Cup and 2018 Nations Cup with relative ease, he has come under constant scrutiny but his problem could be compounded if the Eagles failed to win in Doula when they face CAR in the second leg on Sunday and this could put the qualification for the 2022 World Cup in jeopardy.