Top African national teams like Senegal, Morocco, and Egypt booked their tickets easily for the Qatar 2022 World Cup playoffs, but shockingly, despite a good start of earning six points in the opening two games, the Super Eagles struggled and fumbled to earn the qualification on the very last Match Day of the group series. Many Nigerians are miffed by this development because somehow, good results have come in for the team but the Eagles have been inconsistent under Manager Gernot Rohr, who seems to be bigger than the officials of the federation that employed him five years ago and renewed his contract only last year.
Overtime, we observed that the team lacks cohesion, pattern and most times, results were earned through the individual brilliance of some of the players. The defence of the team is so shambolic such that any average striker can run rings round the defenders anyhow, especially in the central defence. The Leon Balogun/William Troost-Ekong pairing is too weak to confront a solid team.
If teams like CAR, Liberia and Cape Verde can expose this defence, what will happen against higher quality sides like Senegal, Morocco and Algeria, Tunisia? We believe top African players like Sadio Mane of Senegal and Mohamed Salah of Egypt will crush Eagles any day on current form. Incidentally, Nigeria’s opening match of the Cameroon 2021 Nations Cup is against Salah’s Egypt. Another weak area in the team is the midfield which lacks creativity. No player is good enough to provide the killer passes to the strikers upfront. Wilfred Ndidi is doing enough as a defensive midfielder but the same cannot be said of Alex Iwobi and Joe Aribo in moving the ball forward. Rohr should know this to make amends or tell them what to do but rather, he will always bank on luck and individual brilliance of the strikers. Most goals Victor Osimhen scored are largely due to his personal ability and work rate.
He struggles to get the ball, he lacks service from the middle and the flanks. Rohr has abandoned the team’s traditional wing play but he is clueless about the options to wing play. For sentimental reasons, Ahmed Musa is still in the team while for the same reason Odion Ighalo is back. Although Ighalo is still good, the younger strikers should be allowed to make their mistakes and bond together as the future of the Eagles. Again, the NFF should be worried about the number of players Rohr is inviting for every match without using them. He is so predictable and he is wasting the resources of the federation.
It was a shock that his contract was renewed last year and it is still like a dream to many that he is still on the job. We believe the Eagles are not making progress despite the results. Preparation for Cameroon 2021 billed for January should start with the sacking of Rohr so that the new coach will start work for AFCON and the World Cup playoffs slated for March next year. The severance clause in the contract is a payment of $2 million and how that was agreed by the federation remains a big issue. The NFF is answerable to the ministry of sports despite the FIFA status and autonomy and so this contract must be probed.
We make bold to say Nigeria’s senior national team football is at its lowest ebb in recent years. This, of course, is not due to a dearth of talents but simply because the current players are not well deployed in their respective areas of strength. When the Central African Republic (CAR) national team stunned Nigeria in Lagos with a 1-0 win, it was enough warning but head coach Rohr and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) failed to see it that way. In the past five years of Rohr as the manager, the Eagles have not been inspiring because they lack a clear pattern, cohesion and collective play. It is difficult for them to spring four to five passes together. And so the ongoing impasse over the Eagles manager position is not coming as a surprise. During the last FIFA international window, it was a delight to see top teams in various parts of the world book their passage to feature at the Qatar 2022 World Cup finals.
Apart from the host Qatar, Germany, Denmark, Brazil, France, Brazil, Belgium, Croatia, England, Switzerland, Serbia, Holland and Spain have all qualified to feature in the next Copa Mundial. In Africa, Senegal, Morocco, Mali, Egypt, DR Congo, Ghana, Algeria, Cameroon, Tunisia and Nigeria booked places into the playoffs where only five of these 10 countries will emerge for the World Cup finals. The first five teams in the FIFA rankings will be seeded for the playoff draw which promises to be explosive. We expect the Eagles to be seeded but no one is sure about the competence of the team anymore.
There is a need for a fresh breath in the team without Rohr. Former international, Emmanuel Amuneke is available and he knows 70 percent of the current players, and so could be considered to take the senior national team to the next level.