Ex-international Francis Fregene bares his mind on Super Eagles’ chances of winning the World Cup, the technical efficiency and effectiveness of Gernot Rohr and the team goalkeeping department in this exclusive interview with Soccernet.com.ng.
SNG: Can we meet you, Sir?
Francis: My name is Francis Fregene Agbata. I am a former member of the Super Eagles and I have coached both the U-20 and U-17 National teams as a goalkeeper coach. Presently, I am a football administrator.
SNG: Do you think the goalkeeping department will be a major worry for the Super Eagles technical crew considering the fact that goalkeepers such as Daniel Akpeyi, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Dele Ajiboye, Francis Uzoho and Dele Alampasu have not really inspired some level of confidence?
Francis: I don’t really think the goalkeeping department will be a problem for the Super Eagles at the World Cup, knowing fully that our technical crew are technically sound and will do everything possible to ensure that they don’t give room for any lapses. The five goalkeepers you have mentioned have really impressed me and I see nothing wrong with them as far as the goalkeeping department is concerned.
SNG: But do you think they are capable to man the goal post for the Super Eagles at the World Cup?
Francis: The truth is, goalkeepers are always developing with every match and it will be too early to start assuming who is capable for the team at the World Cup. Both Ajiboye and Alampasu were part of our team at the junior level and I think they are good. I have no doubt that any of these five goalkeepers are good for the Super Eagles irrespective of where they play their league.
However, you can’t determine who will stand in the post for the team now but then, some few weeks to the World Cup I will tell who the right choice to man the post will be.
SNG: If you were in the goalkeeping department of the Super Eagles, who would you have selected as your number one goalkeeper?
Francis: We don’t pick goalkeepers just like that considering the fact that there are many criteria you must put into consideration before selecting them. However, we pick goalkeepers based on form because when they will start the final training that’s when you discover that some of them are not fit enough to be on the team.
SNG: What is your take on the four international friendly matches that the Nigeria Football Federation has lined up for the Super Eagles in preparation for the World Cup proper?
Francis: Watch out for the Super Eagles at the World Cup and during the friendly matches that will be played by the team. I can tell you that we have one of the best teams in the world regardless of who is playing for the Super Eagles and their age.
SNG: Why did you say so?
Francis: Because I believe we have very young and experienced players in the team that are going to shock the world in Russia. I believe Nigerians will be proud of the Super Eagles when they go to the World Cup.
SNG: Nigeria has been drawn alongside Argentina, Croatia and Iceland in Group D. What do you think of Nigeria’s chances of qualifying from the group?
Francis: You know we have a very good coach in Gernot Rohr and he’s a man who takes each game one after the other. Besides, he has taken his time to build this team and I believe we will qualify from the group. I know that Croatia is not a pushover team considering the fact that they have many quality players such as Luka Modric, Perisic, to mention a few. However, I know that Nigeria will fancy their chance against Croatia and also try to pick maximum points against Iceland before facing Argentina for a draw.
But then, if the team should qualify from that group, I believe that they will end up in the final if possible. Just mark my word when the tournament starts.
SNG: But don’t you see the Argentine national team led by Lionel Messi give the Super Eagles a footballing lesson of their lives?
Francis: No way. Mind you, we have played Argentina four or five times in the group stages even though we are yet to pick a draw. However, we played them in 2017 in an international friendly game, where Nigeria defeated Argentina 4-2. Fine, many of us say it was a mere a friendly match because Messi didn’t play, I am still confident that the present crop of the Super Eagles will repeat that same feat against Argentina when they meet in the final group game at the World Cup.
SNG: How will you rate Super Eagles technical adviser, Gernot Rohr’s performance in the team since he took over from Sunday Oliseh?
Francis: Rohr is a first class coach and also a German who has every quality needed to succeed in a job. When he first told Nigerians that he knows what he’s going to do to qualify Nigeria ahead of countries like Algeria, Cameroon and Zambia, we all thought he was joking. But today, we could see the difference he had made in the team, qualifying us to the World Cup with a game to spare couple with the fact that he has injected some fresh and hungry players into the Super Eagles regardless of their age. He has been combing Europe and the domestic league to unearth players that will be valuable for the Super Eagles.
SNG: Do you think Mikel Obi’s influence in the Super Eagles will be enough to help the team at the World Cup?
Francis: That’s what I told you about experience. Mikel and Victor Moses are the fulcrum of the Super Eagles while the other players will have to rally around them. Mikel, in particular, will shoulder the responsibility of the team at the World Cup just the way he helped the Olympic Team to win a bronze medal.
SNG: Finally, how far can the Super Eagles go at the World Cup?
Francis: I am not a magician but I think the team has what it takes to go all the way to the final.