The Nigerian senior national football team will begin a hectic schedule from August 2021 as they bid to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and win the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Cup tournament.
The Nations Cup scheduled for Cameroon will run between January and February 2022.
To go forward, we sometimes have to look back. At both the 2018 FIFA World Cup and AFCON 2019 tournaments, the Super Eagles fell short because of late goals.
On June 26, 2018, Marcos Rojo scored Argentina’s second goal in the 86th minute. Nigeria had equalised in the 51st from a penalty by Victor Moses. Rojo’s late goal meant Nigeria did not qualify from the group stage.
That same scenario repeated itself almost a year to the Argentina defeat.
On July 14, 2019, Riyad Mahrez scored a 90th-minute winner for Algeria to deny the Super Eagles a shot at winning a fourth AFCON title. Nigeria had equalised, again from a penalty by Odion Ighalo.
Can we adduce that all the Eagles needed in the above two matches was some dose of luck?
The road to Qatar 2022 kicks off for the Super Eagles on August 31. The first match is against Liberia and three days later, they travel to Cape Verde for the second of eight matches if they will qualify.
Nigeria has qualified for the last two FIFA World Cup events-2014 in Brazil and 2018 in Russia comfortably. But the impending quest for a fourth consecutive qualification could be harder than the last two.
Juxtaposing both the 2018 World Cup and AFCON failures, Nigerian football fans are wont to believe all Rohr’s Super Eagles need is a dose of luck and not better preparation (or even a better and more accomplished manager).
Many do not think it is about luck but more to do with a lack of game management technique or tactic from the team’s gaffer. That has led directly to dwindling optimism about the Eagles’ chances to win AFCON next year or even qualify for Qatar 2022.
The source of this despondency largely stems from the fact that there have been no wins for the Eagles in the last three matches, though they were friendly encounters.
Gernot Rohr has not impressed many Nigerian football fans with the way he has tinkered with the Eagles.
“For all that Gernot Rohr’s reign as Super Eagles boss has been productive results-wise, his ability to influence the game as it goes on has been consistently the weakest aspect of his work,” said Solace Chukwu, in an article for Goal in 2018.
After throwing away a four-goal lead to Sierra Leone in the first leg and battling to a 0-0 in the second in 2019, Sunday Dare, Nigeria’s minister of youth and sports exploded with rage.
“The performance of the Super Eagles from their last two matches calls to question the suitability and competencies of Technical Adviser, Rohr. Nigerian football deserves better. The needful will be done. Apologies to all football lovers.”
The Minister has since cooled down and Rohr is still coasting.
Can Rohr change or get lucky?
Former Eagles forward, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, was very blunt in an interview with Goal in November 2020, saying, “The coach is not good enough. Let him go.
“Our football is getting worse every day. When I was there, people criticise us, but we’re way better than these ones. The coach is not good enough, no clue. Gernot Rohr is one of the worst coaches in our history.”
The high level of ennui towards Rohr and his regime is better gauged by Ken Ochonogor’s response to Premium Times. “I have stopped talking about the Super Eagles personally since Rohr was engaged.
“My take in the draws is simple, irrespective of the group you’re in; to be the best, you must beat the best.”
When Nigerian journalists are reticent on a subject-they are likely thinking, it is better to refrain from speaking their (negative) mind in order not to jinx the subject.
Every Nigerian would love to see the Eagles triumph at the AFCON tournament, especially in Cameroon, whose national team denied the Eagles at least two titles in the past, but poor displays and results have dampened their optimism.
James Clear says, “We cannot control our luck—good or bad—but we can control our effort and preparation.”
“It’s a tricky draw for the Eagles,” says Rotimi Akindele. “Because African football has somewhat evolved in the last few years. If we don’t get our acts right, especially mentally, we could be shocked,” he added.
Tongue in cheek, this means the Eagles under Rohr cannot be trusted to do what is needed.
Whilst football is not mathematics and cannot be calculated or predicted, there is still the fact of probability.
The Eagles have attended 18 of the 32 previous AFCON tournaments since 1957 and have made it to the semi-finals 15 times.
The Eagles have pedigree, especially at AFCON. In the latest FIFA rankings, Nigeria is ranked fifth, so they should at least get to the quarter-finals. At least!
“There’s a big worry with Rohr if he can ever get it right with the current team,” noted Chijioke Ezeali.
Ezeali quickly adds: “Under Rohr, Nigeria has found it easy to qualify for major competitions, and making it to Qatar 2022 shouldn’t be a problem.”
If all the Eagles are good enough to get to the quarter-final and the group stage at Qatar 2022, what exactly is Nigeria doing with Rohr? Nigeria achieved all these and more under a local manager called Stephen Keshi, who many denigrated.
Maybe the late Keshi was lucky because he won AFCON and made it out of the group stage at a FIFA World Cup. Nigerians expect Rohr to find this luck as soon as possible!
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