Super Eagles boss Gernot Rohr says the team is still on course to achieve early qualification for the 2021 AFCON and has assured his players will fight for all three points against Sierra Leone in Tuesday’s qualifier.
Nigeria entered into this series of qualifiers against Sierra Leone knowing that victory in both games would guarantee them a place in Cameroon.
But after throwing away a four goal lead to draw 4-4 in the first leg at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin, the Eagles must now win in Sierra Leone and hope that Lesotho drop points at home to Benin in Group L’s other game to make sure of qualification.
Rohr, however, says the plan has always been to get four points from both encounters against the Leone Stars with the target being a win at home in Nigeria and an least a draw away in Freetown.
Having botched the Nigerian leg of the operation, there is now no margin of error left for the Eagles in what has become a must win game but Rohr believes his team is fully prepared for the task ahead.
With Sierra Leone unbeaten at home in seven years, Rohr acknowledges the challenge of leaving with all three points and points to their stirring come back in the first leg as further proof of their quality.
While the manner of his team’s collapse in Nigeria still rankles, Rohr says the performance contained aspects of how he wants the team to play with the devastating attacking play that produced four goals in the opening thirty minutes but sans the dodgy defending and brittle mental fortitude that saw the team ship in four goals in eighteen second half minutes.
With the team now in place in Sierra Leone and having gotten a feel of the facilities at the Siaka Stevens Stadium and local climatic conditions, Rohr believes his wards will be in good shape when kick off arrives.
“The expectations are to make a good match. We discovered here the conditions of the stadium, the grass, also the hot weather, the travelling was okay, a little bit long but I think that we can recover until tomorrow afternoon,” Rohr told the Super Eagles media channel after they arrived in Freetown on Monday.
“And then of course, the objective is all the time to win the game. We wanted to do the 4 points in the two matches to be qualified, it’s still possible, and I believe in my team, I think we can do that, will be difficult like I told you already before the match on the last day.
“We saw it in the second half that they have a good team, but we can play very well, we saw it in the first 30 minutes the other day. We want to play like this, our football, playing forward, scoring goals, but defending better than we did the last day.”
With Nigerians still smarting from the humiliation of giving up four goals at home for the first time in over fifty years, Rohr knows only a decisive win against the Leone Stars can begin to salve the open wound the game in Benin inflicted on football-mad Nigerians.
And the former Gabon manager says Nigerians can expect to see players who are fired up and burning with zeal to redeem themselves on Tuesday.
“Of course we are confident. They can believe that the players will fight for all Nigerian supporters and they will give the best,” he said.
While he is confident of leaving Freetown with all three points, the task will be made harder by the absence of top scorer Victor Osimhen who has scored four times in the qualifiers including a goal in the first leg but has been ruled out with a shoulder injury suffered in the Benin game.
Osimhen will be a big miss, but Rohr says the Napoli striker’s absence presents an opportunity for whoever comes takes his place to show his passion for the shirt and Nigeria’s flag.
He also confirmed that there are no other injury worries with the duo of Leon Balogun and Samuel Chukwueze who were both withdrawn in the second half of the first leg fully recovered from various niggles while Club Brugge forward Emmanuel Dennis is fit to play having sat out the first game with a swollen ankle.
“I think we are ready for this match. We miss Osimhen of course, perhaps another changing in the team, but the players will have the honour to represent the country tomorrow, they will give really the best, they will fight until the end of the match,” the former Bordeaux manager said.
“No, [no more injuries] only this one from Osimhen. Unfortunately we will miss him for a long time, but the other players are here to come in.”
Tuesday’s match will kick off at 4pm local time (5pm Nigeria time).