By Omavua Akatugba
My trip to Wroclaw, Poland where the Super Eagles played Poland in its first Pre World Cup friendly was inspired by the fact that I had an appointment to interview the Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr. We met on my last trip to Lagos Nigeria and we had a brief conversation, speaking in German language. This perhaps endeared me to him and I requested to interview him when they travel to Poland for the international friendly. He obliged and said I must just inform the media officer of the team, Toyin Ibitoye and we would be ready to go. The coach fulfilled his promise, managing to squeeze out the last 10 minutes of his time before the team flew to London for the second friendly game against Serbia.
On whether Poland provided his team with the kind of test he needed:
Yes, Poland is one of the best teams in the world, they are No 6 and we are No 52. So the FIFA ranking is a reflection of a team’s recent results and Poland is really one of the best teams. The test was very important for us because we have not played against a European team for 2 years. It’s a different football when you play against Poland compared to when you play against Congo or Algeria. For us, it is important to know that we are able to play at a higher level and to make results in Europe as well. It is not so far away from Russia, our first game will be in Kaliningrad and we are playing against Croatia, so you see that it was very interesting for us to play in these conditions. It was a full house, over 40,000 people. Very strong team physically very strong, one of the strongest teams, playing so much in the air, jumping so much and they play a lot of high balls. The lesson I have learnt from this game is that we have to be careful in the area of managing high balls.
On the lack of service to Ighalo upfront:
When you go to Poland, you know that you have to defend very well at first, When you have a player like Robert Lewandoski, you must be able to have an answer to his wonderful game, and you know that everytime he has played at home, he has scored but he could not score against us, because we were very well organised defensively and sometimes when you are very orgaised defensively, you have less balls for your strikers and that is what happened yesterday, that is true but Ighalo made a lot of individual actions, running a lot to get the ball and he could fix the defence, there were a lot of players against him, it was not easy but he did it well.
On the competition between Elderson Echiejile, Brian Idowu and Ola Aina in the left back position:
I am not confused about who to play in the left back. I am never confused, I have the choice and it is wonderful. When I arrived in Nigeria, we had problems in the left back position. We found Tyron Ebuehi, Ola Aina and Brown Idowu and that is a big competition, it is no confusion. It is a competition and that is very fare.
Against Poland, Brian Idowu did very well, he plays in Russia which could be a big advantage for him. Ola Aina is doing very well in Hull city. We also have Elderson Echiejile, a very good experienced player. So it will be a difficult choice for us but the coach is happy when he has more players in a position and must pick the best one.
On Francis Uzoho and who will be the first choice goalkeeper at the World Cup:
I think you should be more impressed than me because I know him already. So I saw also that the 40,000 people in the stadium in Poland were impressed. He is 19 years old, we already had the youngest team before he came and now we are even younger. We are the youngest team in the world with Germany as No 2 and this goalkeeper, has just played 2 games, the last 45 minutes against Argentina, he had a clean shit, now he has recorded another clean shit against Poland. Its good for his confidence,
he is the No 3 goalkeeper in La Coruna and he is playing very well in the second team. I sent our goalkeeper coach there to work with him for 2 weeks and watch him to speak with the club staff. I think he can be a solution for the future but we cant make a decision with just one or two games.
On how his team plays and how Nigeria lacks quality players compared to the ninetees
We are a collective unit, we have a style of playing which is based on teamwork but in every team, you have individuals who can make the difference and in this case we have Victor Moses, we are very happy to have him, we have other players as well, who can make the difference. John Obi Mikel, our captain was not around against Poland but we know that with his passes and influence, he can be very interesting and important for the team, he is also our leader, we won a game without him for the first time and we are happy about this. We don’t have players like we had in the nineties with Jay Jay Okocha, Kanu, Victor Ikpeba. So we have a collective unit of Iheanacho, Iwobi who are playing for the team, working for the team, Ighalo also and even Victor Moses, he works for the team. When you see the defensive job he does for the team also like he does at Chelsea, even if he does less of that with us, but he is doing it and working for the team but he can make the difference.
On Kelechi’s performance in the role of centre midfielder:
I know my players, Kelechi is running so much and fighting for his starting place, it is very important that we have this competition, he is a left footer and we don’t have so many left footers, we also tried Joel Obi for the first time since I have been the coach of the Super Eagles. He is a left footer, we need some left footers in the team and he did well, Iheanacho also, he is fighting and pressing hard, he is able to score.
On Nigeria not being the best team in the group:
We have to work, we are so young, we are the youngest team in the world. We have to be sure that our solidity in defence, our organisation is strong enough to resist Croatia who has one of the best midfield going to the world cup, so we must progress, we are at the beginning of something beautiful. I hope it will be a beautiful adventure for us at the world cup. But you see even if we won against Poland, I think we were lucky, we don’t believe we are the favourite in the group. We are No 4 in the group, When you see the other teams, even Iceland is better ranked than us, So let’s stay humble and work.