The Super Eagles kicked off their Africa Cup of Nations campaign with a win over debutants Burundi on Saturday, June 22 but it was far from convincing as they struggled for most periods of the match in Alexandria.
When the draws were made in April 2019, Nigeria was expected to see off Burundi, Guinea and Madagascar easily, but Saturday’s opener showed the Super Eagles won’t have it easy. The Swallows ranked 37th in Africa took the game to their experienced opponents and were the better team for most moments of the game. They had better chances in the game and could have earned a shock win if they had been clinical enough.
The Super Eagles were lethargic for most aspects of the game and could have had an embarrassing result if not for Ola Aina’s creativity. The performance on Saturday drew up questions on whether Rohr got his tactics and line-up spot on.
Speaking after the match, the German gave reasons why his team struggled against the minnows, but none included his choice of line up and tactics. “It was a very difficult match for us because this team of Burundi is very organised. Olivier – the coach, I know him very well and he has a lot of experience,” Rohr said after the game.
“They also qualified from a tough group that has Gabon, Mali and they come through. We saw the games, they were unbeaten in the qualifiers. “It was not easy, especially very difficult to score the first goal. If the first goal is not coming quickly, you suffer and you have to work hard to score and to win the matches.
He also revealed his side had to battle injuries and virus prior to the match. “Our plan was to bring in Ighalo when the other team, perhaps, gives us more space. But we had problems, physically,” Rohr said. “So many players were sick in the last two weeks, it was a virus. Half of my team had a fever and could not train. “Ahmed Musa also and Shehu could not stay beyond the first half, yesterday we lost two players in the training session. The solidarity of the team makes a difference.”
While Rohr may be right to an extent on how Burundi were organized and how injuries affected the rhythm of his team, the former Auxerre manager was still at fault for some questionable selections and it is something he must fix ahead of the game against Guinea.
The 65-year-old selected Akpeyi in goal while he also fielded Mikel Obi in an advanced role behind Paul Onuachu. This affected Super Eagles performance in all departments. One needs to question the choice of Rohr to select Akpeyi who has been criticised in the past for failing to provide confidence to his defenders.
The South Africa based goalkeeper is one that does not instil confidence into the team and that showed when he misjudged a back pass that could have cost the team early in the first half of the game. Aside from that, the Kaizer Chiefs shot-stopper was not Super Eagles number one choice at the World Cup or the AFCON qualifiers, which makes it surprising that Rohr decided to pick him ahead of Francis Uzoho who was the number one choice.
Although Rohr may want to point to the fact that Uzoho is struggling for game time in Cyprus where he’s playing, it’s still better to have a keeper who gives confidence to the defenders than someone who makes the fans panic anytime the opposition charges towards goal. Criticism was also directed to Rohr over the position he played Mikel Obi in the game against Burundians and it’s a justified one.
The Middlesbrough star was played in an advanced role behind Paul Onuachu who was another player that has no business on the pitch that day. Mikel is not the fastest of players, while his best legs are gone, which begs the question of why Rohr decided to play him in that role when we have players who can fit in perfectly in the role.
It’s not a surprise that the Eagles performance improved when Rohr decided to chalk him and Onuachu off early in the second half. The two players are not the fastest of players and that’s why the Super Eagles couldn’t muster an attempt on goal when they were leading the line. Rohr must avoid selecting these guys in subsequent games as they have shown to slow down games.
The Burundian’s couldn’t cope with the forward line when Rohr slotted Iwobi into the midfield and introduced both Musa and Igahlo. This changes brought about the lone goal Super Eagles scored in the game and it’ll be wise of Rohr to make sure he does not commit the same line-up gaffe in the game against Guinea.