Fans criticised the Super Eagles coach and players after a disappointing evening at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium on Friday, but a former Nigerian international believes only the players should bear the brunt of the disastrous outing
Former Nigerian midfielder Garba Lawal has absolved German tactician Gernot Rohr of any blame in the Super Eagles shocking 4-4 draw with Sierra Leone on Matchday three of the 2021 African Cup of Nations qualifying campaign.
Group L leaders Super Eagles were massive favourites on the night against the group basement side and quickly established their superiority with four goals in the game’s first 30 minutes.
Everton ace Alex Iwobi grabbed a fine brace while the duo of Napoli’s Victor Osimhen and Villarreal’s Samuel Chukwueze netted one each in a frantic opening half-hour.
But Sierra Leone remarkably fought back from the dead to secure a draw and earn an astonishing point, following a fantastic second-half, which saw the West Africans score three goals in the last 20 minutes.
Rohr has been knocked for handing starts to three players – goalkeeper Maduka Okoye, as well as defenders Kevin Akpoguma and Zaidu Sanusi – making their competitive debuts for the three-time African champions.
The former Gabon coach also didn’t play a traditional defensive midfielder all game and made a raft of changes that left the team devoid of its first-half rhythm and tempo.
Sierra Leone coach John Keister has already boasted that his substitutes made the difference for the Leone Stars.
But Lawal insists Super Eagles players, and not their coach, should be held responsible for the team’s second-half collapse.
“Only the players can explain what happened even the coach cannot tell you this because they are the actors,” Lawal told Goal.
“The coach has no blame. The players know there were a lot of things they did wrong. They knew they have complete control of the game, and suddenly something went wrong, of course, it is the players that will take responsibility for that.
“The coach did everything right; it’s the players that disappointed. If their tactics were not good, how did they score four goals? The players were not disciplined. They exposed themselves.
“The players are professionals, and they know what is at stake. They knew they did not do well. When you take chances, that is what you get. Many of the fans were expecting something like 7-0 after a 4-0 lead.
“We don’t know what went wrong; only the players can tell. Nobody thought the Sierra Leoneans can come back into the game after 4-1. We were lucky because we could have also lost that match.”
Nigeria and Sierra Leone trade tackles again on Tuesday in the return Group L fixture of the Afcon qualifying series.
Gernot Rohr’s men retain the group’s top spot with seven points, despite dropping their first points of the campaign, while the Leone Stars now boast two points from their three games played.
Absolute nonsense! The coach has 99% of the blame. Everyone knows that Akpoguma is a centre back, yet the coach insisted on playing him as a right back even when the young man had proved ineffective in that position during the two friendly games last month. When Balogun got injured, every novice would have used that opportunity to move Akpoguma to pair Ekong in his more familiar centre back role, while bringing in Ola Aina or Ebuehi to slot into the right back.
Yet our coach chose to bring in a stiff Ajayi to pair with Ekong leaving Akpoguma to continue suffering in the right back. Even when the game was still 4-2, the coach could still have salvaged things by withdrawing struggling Aribo, moving Ajayi to support Etebo in the midfield, and Akpoguma to pair Ekong in the centre while bringing in Ola Aina or Ebuehi to stem the opponent’s onslaught through the right.
The coach succeeded in killing the confidence of of a decent young center back by playing him in the wrong position, and that of our young keeper by leaving him unnecessarily exposed through his stupid selection and poor tactical approach.