Amakeshift Nigerian team under Coach Gernot Rohr showed resilience and grit to beat Cape Verde 2-1 and grab the three points at stake to maintain a firm grip on top of Group C of the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifiers, with Liberia second with three points after they beat CAR 1-0. Recall that in Mindelo, Dylan dos Santos shot Cape Verde in front after 19 minutes when he slipped behind the Super Eagles defence and slammed a rocket of a shot past goalkeeper Maduka Okoye. Victor Osimhen got the equalizer after pouncing on a rebound off keeper’s effort to avert an own-goal which eventually came from another player in the 79th minute to guarantee the maximum points for Nigeria.
The starting line-up of Rohr was a true testimony of the coach’s stubborn nature in the discharge of his duties. Alex Iwobi, Ogenekaro Etebo and Joe Aribo were not on the cards for the match, yet Rohr left Henry Onyekuru on the bench till late in the second half.
We believe Onyekuru should have started the match in Mindelo. Before this round of matches, it was obvious some players would not make it to Cape Verde, it was, however, strange that stand-in midfielders like John Ogu and Mikel Agu who have been part of the team over the years were not invited.
Kingsley Michael, Chidera Ejuke and Innocent Bonke earned their first caps in the encounter. Of course, the midfield was flat and the defence exposed in the match. It was also strange to see Ahmed Musa in the starting line-up when Paul Onuachu and Onyekuru were on the bench. Rohr told journalists that the two matches were won under tough circumstances. “We played two different matches with two different teams and it was very difficult.
The results were so good because we are in a good position to finish as group winners. The players gave their best and I am particularly happy with those who stepped up for the players who were not in Mindelo,” he said. The President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, also expressed delight over the victory recorded in Mindelo and the six points garnered in two games. “That was what I call a fighting performance. That is the universally-acknowledged ‘Nigerian spirit.’
That is the attitude of champions. The pitch was not the best; the weather was not the ideal, but they remained focused on the big picture to get the result,” Pinnick said. We make bold to say that even in victory, Rohr is still not convincing. The Nations Cup is coming up early next year and the Nigerian team still lacks cohesion despite his long stay with the team. An Onuachu, who bangs in goals regularly at Genk in Belgium, should be in the starting line-up with Osimhen. It’s all about style. Recall the Samson Siasia/Rashidi Yekini partnership or the Daniel Amokachi/ Yekini partnership. We believe sticking with only Osimhen as a lone striker is not good enough.
Rohr must think out of the box to get the best players involved in the starting lineup. An honest reflection on the two games won clearly shows that it was not due to tactics or the dexterity of the team but rather the individual skills and the determination of the players to excel. The Eagles are currently hot and can rule Africa easily and compete against the best teams in the world but it has to be with a right-thinking manager with modern knowledge of the game, not Rohr. Undoubtedly, Rohr is a very stubborn coach and so far he has been lucky with his ‘gambling’ decisions on the senior national team.
With six points from two games, the Eagles are already on course to top Group C and favourites for the last qualifying round. We are aware that Nigerians, over the years, have raised questions over the ‘so-called’ building process of Rohr. Against Cape Verde in Mindelo it was a tough encounter in which 10 regular players were not part of the team. Players based in the United Kingdom were ruled out because they were barred from the ‘red list’ countries, which included Cape Verde. Eight players were ruled out due to COVID-19 issues while Samuel Kalu and Tyron Ebuehi were ruled out for testing positive for the virus – just 24 hours to the match.
Wilfred Ndidi, Leon Balogun, Ekong, Iheanacho, Etebo, Iwobi, Aribo and Ola Aina were ruled out. However, the result was recorded but the national team were far from the level they should be. We should be looking at the final round of the World Cup qualifiers in which it is expected a tough team would be paired against Nigeria.
We urge the team to keep winning so that Nigeria can remain in the top five on FIFA rankings to be seeded for the final qualifiers among the 10 top teams from the groups. We also expect that the qualifiers should serve as good preparations for the AFCON finals in Cameroon in January. The next two matches against Central African Republic (CAR) in October must be won to boost the Eagles’ rankings and Rohr should work on the cohesion of the team because of anticipated tougher challenges in future.