Super Eagles head coach, Gernot Rohr, fielded a lot of questions from journalists during his online pre-match news conference ahead of today’s (Friday) international friendly match between Nigeria and Algeria at the Worthersee Stadium, Klagenfurt.
Rohr: I want to see good football. I want to see the same spirit we had long time before in last games. I want to see also new faces, like you know we have eight new players invited in the list of 26.
As much as these games are for the future, you are going to be without your top scorer for the qualifiers, Osimhen. Will his absence in any way affect your approach to the games?
You mentioned Paul Onuachu who is a tall striker and is good in the air. Will you be playing to his strength by instructing wingers to get the crosses in for him?
The team doesn’t have to adapt the game to one player, Onuachu. He has to adapt on the qualities. When we have the ball, we try to play short passes, with wingers playing quickly and switching from one side to the other and he has to integrate with his qualities and adapt.
We will not change our game only for him and make long kicks in the air, no. But of course, such can happen during the course of the game when our wingers might have to use long balls and crosses because he is good in the air. But largely, we want to play the ball on the ground and he has to adapt his game to the team.
Tobias Lawal was not originally invited but he is currently in the camp training with the team. What’s your impression about him? And do want to use this game to avenge the semi-final loss to Algeria at the last AFCON?
This is a friendly, a preparation game and definitely not a revenge game. When you test new players and you have a new midfield – unfortunately, it is not only Osimhen we are missing, but three of our best midfielders, so we have to see if we have players who can replace them very well, and still play good football.
Are you looking to invite goalkeeper Sebastian Osigwe who is also doing fine in FC Lugano.
We are following him. He played in Austria last season and has now moved to Switzerland. He might get his chance next time.
What’s your assessment of the national team. It’s about four years down the line, will you say you’re still rebuilding the squad or have you really found the style you want the Super Eagles to play?
We’ve found our style, everybody could see it in our last games. But it’s about 11 months since we last played and it’s not easy after such a long time to find the rhythm and combinations immediately, especially with new players coming in. We are missing five starting players – Etebo, Aribo, Ndidi, Uzoho and Osimhen -we are missing half of the team.
That is an opportunity to see the new boys and to try to find again our style of football which is about quick passes, few touches, movement, going on the wings, going straight to the goal and to close together between the defence and the strikers to be a block. And I hope we can find that rhythm, but we’ve had just five training sessions but three days is not enough to prepare against the African champions.
What’s your impression of the new players in camp during the training sessions?
You will be playing against Algeria for the fourth time. The Algerians have evolved from the team you trashed 3-1 in 2016 to the one that could not beat the Super Eagles in Constantine in 2017. Two years later, they beat us in the semi-finals of the AFCON and are now African champions. Do you in anyway envy their progression from 2016 till date and are you hoping the same story can be said about your team between now and 2022?
We know this Algerian team. They are unbeaten now in 18 games and we will like to stop them. We know it will not be easy. They’ve made a lot of progress since we beat them in Uyo. It’s not the same team, but they still have some of those players. Now they are number-one in Africa and they will be a very big test for us. The second game we played 1-1 draw with them in Constantine, but we lost it , fortunately, we had already qualified for the World Cup by then.
We look at what they are doing at the club. We have to do the list very early – five weeks before – to cater for the visa issues and other protocols especially because of the covid-19. At this moment, most of the leagues are not playing, so we based our list on what was happening previously. But after we did the list, some leagues started.
Some Nigerians feel you have preference for Nigerian players born in Europe. Is that true and will that not take away some aggression and physicality from the team?
We never watch the place where they are born. When we make our list, we only look at the quality of the players. It doesn’t matter where they were born, it matters only how well they can play. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take any player from Nigerian [league] now because they didn’t play since March already, so it was not possible for them to come in.
There is concern about the defensive midfield. What is your plan to have a solid midfield in the absence of Wilfred Ndidi and others?
The absence of our three defensive midfielders, we miss Ndidi and Aribo who are two of the best players in the last games, and also Etebo now. We have invited Onyeka from Midtyjlland, you will discover him in the game. We have invited also Samson Tijani who is on loan at Hartberg, a very good player, 18 years and doing very well in the training sessions. Then we have Mikel Agu coming back, playing all the games with Vitoria de Guimarães, he deserves to come back. We have also the possibility to play one of our central defenders, Awaziem or Ajayi in the number 6 position.
Why have you invited Tijani at this stage. What are his chances of playing knowing he was a young player previously with the Nigerian U-17 team?
We invited Tijani because he has transferred to a good club. Red Bull Salzburg has one of the best scouting team in the world. We observed him at the World Cup and he did well.
You’re known to be very conservative. Are we going to see all the invited players play in the two friendly games? Secondly, which do you prefer between the old and and the new jerseys?
The jerseys are very nice. I saw it for the first time, there are two new ones. I know that the former one was a big success. There was one of the two colours a lot of people believe that it brings us bad fortune at the time. So this one is a new style, but for me I’m not looking too much at the jersey, that’s for the fans.
Now we have only two games and it will not be easy to play 26 players – or make two different teams, which is not in our spirit because we have to find quickly the rhythm because we’ve not played for a long time.
Having worked with the three previous goalkeepers and have seen the new ones now in camp, who do you consider is your number one goalkeeper?
We know who will start the game, but I can’t disclose that now. That will be just before the game after I’ve spoken with them. We decide between three goalkeepers because the fourth cannot play. It could be Maduka for his little experience he already has with us against Brazil, but not playing so much at the club. it could be Yakubu because he’s playing all the time at the club, but he never played with us; or it could be Alampasu who plays I think half of the games with his club even in the European competition but they are out already.
Has anything really changed mentally or physically for the players during training because of the coronavirus pandemic which is still around? Also what did you do to keep in touch with your players during the pandemic?
So many things changed because in this period, lots of things have happened. First, there was lockdown for everybody. We were in touch with our players by phone, through video to try to train at home – fortunately, technology helped us very much.
How much of these games are you taking into the qualifiers. If the players chosen to replace regulars like Ndidi, Etebo and Aribo do well, are you going to have selection problems?
I hope so. If I have selection problems, it means that everybody is fit and that’s what I want. I will want to have Ndidi, but unfortunately, he will not be ready by November. I think Aribo will be ready and that is some good news. I spoke with Etebo and we might possibly have him in November.
Super Eagles will resume AFCON qualifiers against Benin, Sierra Leone, Lesotho. Is the team not missing out not having friendlies outside North African opponents, Algeria and Tunisia?
It’s a regret. We want to play team.from West Africa, Cote d’Ivoire, but I heard they couldn’t come and we had to play against Algeria. It’s not my wish, it was not the wish of the staff to play twice against these two similar teams from North Africa. And we know these people, sometimes they could be aggressive, sometimes it can’t be positive aggressiveness. In our qualifiers, we don’t have any North African teams, so it’s not a good preparations for us. But it’s already good to play again, we are happy to be together and to see some new faces and especially to see again our old faces and then we have to do a good work to prepare. I hope Sierra Leone will be a different opposition, but we have to be ready.