By Hanifat Mustapha:
Former Super Eagles midfielder Garba Lawal has rejected claims that referee Cuneyt Cakir had a hand in the team’s elimination from the Russia 2018 World Cup.
The Nigerian side fell 2-1 to Argentina on Tuesday and ended in third place in Group D with three points.
Many Nigerians felt the Turkish official favoured Argentina, especially after refusing to give a penalty for Marcos Rojo’s handball after Video Assistant Referee review.
“The referee was fair enough,” Lawal, who featured for the Super Eagles at the 1998 World Cup in France, told Completesportsnigeria.com on Wednesday.
“When the incident happened, he wasn’t sure so he went to check the VAR before making any decision. On getting there he saw that the ball touched Rojo’s head before hitting his hands.
“If the ball had touched his hand alone it’s a penalty. But at the end of the day, the ball dropped but Ighalo couldn’t convert his chance, instead he missed the ball. We should not criticise the referee but the players who missed good opportunities.”
Lawal is however mostly satisfied with the Super Eagles performance in Russia and advised that players should be retained.
“If I must say, the squad is still okay,” the for Roda midfielder told CSN. “The coach can make changes if he wants to and another coach might be appointed by the NFF and will get new players into the squad. All a coach wants in the team is success.
“Yesterday’s match should have ended 1-1. At that moment someone should have geared the players to strive till the end but the team lost concentration and in the 80th minute and Argentina utilized their chances.
“To me both the coach and players are involved in this. Coaches make players and players make coaches. There are some situations that the coach seeks opinion of the players like the Argentines did before the match yesterday. Going into the second half, Messi was the one talking to the players on the pitch. Sometimes, the coach will give instructions and the players won’t abide by it.
“A coach must have a plan before the game and on getting to the pitch, things will change. Once the opponent scores, they will destabilise your tactical game plan but a leader must keep encouraging the players on the pitch.
“I believe African teams will have to go back and work on our loss of concentration during games. African teams need to adjust themselves and be focused in terms of set pieces and attack if they want to go far in global championships.”