After missing out of the 2015 and 2017 edition of the African Nations Cup, football aficionados in Nigeria were expecting the Super Eagles to win the trophy in Egypt following their return.
Barring the inclusion of Daniel Akpeyi Coach Gernot Rohr appeared to have named a strong 23-man squad but the Eagles were dominated by the Desert Foxes of Algeria and fell to the free kick of Riyad Mahrez in time added on.
For failing to guide the team to at least the final, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) should consider sacking the German tactician or he should resign honourably.
Aside his tactical gaffe and technical deficiencies which were apparent in Egypt, Rohr’s biggest mistake is his decision to name Akpeyi in his squad and making him the first choice keeper of Eagles. Is the German gaffer telling us that there are no better net-minders among 180 million Nigerians than the club-less Akpeyi?
Recall that in this column last week, I warned that for the Super Eagles to at least get to the final and repeat the feat of 2013, Rohr must drop the South Africa based goalkeeper to the substitutes’ bench. The goalkeeper has committed several errors from the group stage to the semi-final that has affected the confidence of the defenders and also put them under heavy pressure. There are instances where the likes of Kenneth Omeruo, William Troost-Ekong, Chidozie Awaziem and Jamilu Collins could have passed the ball to the keeper when the opponents bear down on goal but for the poor form of Akpeyi they took other decisions which may not turn out well.
The defeat of the Eagles was particularly bitter given that the match could have gone into extra time if the team did not concede that 93rd minute free kick or if they had defended the set-piece well. Many would also query the decision of Akpeyi to stand behind the wall when the Manchester City forward (Mahrez) took the free kick. It is an unwritten rule in the game that any goalkeeper even those that are just starting up should not stay behind the wall when a free kick is to be taken against his team.
Also, there is an argument raised by the former technical director of the NFF, Coach Kashimawo Laloko, that Rohr broke the long standing policy of Nigerian football by not choosing at least 30 per cent of his AFCON squad from the domestic league. Laloko asked whether the coach was proving to the world that players from the domestic league cannot compete with the rest of the world except Ikechukwu Ezenwa, who has been in the Eagles for quite an age now.
Rohr appeared to have weakened our corporate resolve when he told newsmen in Cairo that he had achieved his mandate of getting the team to play in the semi-finals of the African Nations Cup.
Rohr’s decision to bring on Henry Onyekuru for Samuel Chukwueze who was by far our major attacking threat against Algeria was a very wrong decision. The German could have replaced either our ineffective captain Ahmed Musa or the tired Alex Iwobi for the Everton striker. Also, he could have made another substitution to slow down the high tempo of the match when the Algerians were pressing high or instruct his players to play the ball out wide after the opponents hit the woodwork.
The Algerians came prepared for us and this was confirmed by their coach, Belmadi when during the press conference after the victory said; “
We had to make a plan for Nigeria. We knew that they like to use the pace of Musa and Chukwueze. They like to be direct in their approach, so we tried to close those spaces.
“Musa’s pace is so impressive. He was the most dangerous player in the team. I also knew that their defenders are very good but not very fast. If you run at them, they struggle.” This is indeed technical depth from a coach who knows his onions.
From the blast of the whistle, it was evident that the Algerians came prepared as they marked out Musa, Odion Ighalo and Chukwueze but unfortunately Rohr and his technical team did not read the game well or force a strategy review. For short, Rohr and his men did not have a plan B.
For me, I believe with a better coach on the bench, the Eagles could have taken the Algerians apart. The NFF need not wait till eternity to make a decision on our coach now; they should just sack Rohr after the third place match.