Defining week for Rohr and Nigeria

The double header World Cup qualifers the Super Eagles play over the against Camerooncould well define Gernot Rohr's tenure as Nigeria's head coach.

 

When Nigeria were beaten in June by South Africa in their opening qualifying game for the 2019 African Cup of Nations Rohr was rumoured to be considering his position in the face of criticism from members of the Nigeria Football Federation.

The NFF had good reason to be worried in June. At that point CAN hadn't been expanded to the 24 team format which means nearly every other country should qualify for the tournament.

Not that this get out of jail card eases the presure from Africa's most populous nation. Since making their maiden World Cup appearnce Nigeria expect to qualify for the Mundial and Rohr is facing the African champions withquestion marks throughout his squad.

Rohr is bullish about the task ahead.

"Some players will be playing in the UEFA Champions League and league matches, so we must be careful and be prepared because we could have problems either at their clubs or even in the first leg game in Uyo," he said.

"We know that in these two games, we need at least three points and the best is to get it in the first game. To win the games, I think we have a team which is stronger than the last time with more experience because three other key players are back now.

"There is our captain (Mikel Obi), Leon Balogun and Victor Moses coming back. In each department of our team, we have key players returning and we need their experiences and talents."

Nigeria are sitting at the top of the Group B table with six points from six matches. The Cameroon are placed second with two points.

His bullish talk doesn't disguise the fact he will have some conundrums to figure out.

One change has has already been decided. Carl Ikeme's Leukaemia has robbed him of his most capable and experienced number one' Now Daniel Akpeyi will miss Friday's game in Uyo with injury. Ikechukwu Ezenwa from Nigerian club FC Ifeanyi Ubah will now start the game, while Dele Ajiboye from Plateau United has been handed a late invitation to the squad in the absence of South-Africa based Akpeyi.

Ezenwa is skipper of the home-based Eagles and his penalty save helped the country qualify for a third straight African Nations Championship at the expense of Benin in Kano earlier this month.

"This boy (Ezenwa) who plays in Nigeria will now start the game," Rohr said.

"He did well with the home-based national team and he will do well (against Cameroon), we will protect him and give him confidence. The home fans will also give him confidence."

It's a good job Leon Balogun is back after missing the South African game and Cameroon coach Hugo Broos has been lamenting his striking options.

Mikel may be back in midfield, but he is only two weeks into a return after a four month lay-off. The skipper, though, is indispensable.

To get those three points Rohr will need goals and in the striking department there also problems. Alex Iwobi has already withdrawn, but the Leicester duo of Ahmed Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho have been out of favour and lacking game time respectively. Odion Ighalo, even in his purple patch 18 months ago at Watford, could not reproduce his stunning form for Nigeria.

It's unthinkable to Nigerians that they won't be in Russia next year after getting an earl stranglehold on the group but these two games will go a long way to deciding the Russian ticket.

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