CAIRO – Super Eagles head coach Gernot Rohr says his players still have a lot to learn tactically following their defeat in the semifinal of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations at the hands of Algeria.
Nigeria’s campaign for a fourth AFCON title was halted in heart-breaking fashion by a last-minute winner from a Riyad Mahrez free kick at the Cairo International Stadium on Sunday.
Odion Ighalo’s goal from the spot in the second half after Algeria had taken the lead through a first-half own-goal by William Troost-Ekong, had given Nigeria a foothold in the game following long bouts of Algerian dominance.
With the game seemingly headed for a stalemate, Rohr said his players attempted to see out the game and hold out for extra time believing they held a physical edge over Algeria who had played 120 minutes against Ivory Coast three days ago and one day fewer to rest than Nigeria only for Mahrez to put their calculations in tatters.
“It was a big fight until the last minute,” Rohr said in the post-match press conference following the game.
“Algeria made a better first half than us but we came back in the match in the second half and unfortunately we conceded this goal in the last minute I think the players wanted to go to extra time believing that perhaps Algeria will be tired and we could win this match in the extra time.”
Nigeria’s coach also explained that Algeria’s game plan of ferociously pressing the Eagles in midfield and defence and also cutting out space for Nigeria’s wingers was the reason for Nigeria’s lackluster performance in the first half where they were completely dominated by the Desert Foxes and ultimately cost them the game overall.
“I think that Algeria made a better pressing than us especially in the first half, and in the midfield, they had some very good situations and we had problems in the back of our defensive midfielders so they could have some opportunities,” Rohr said explaining the Algerian tactical plan that undid his team.
“Also, the center-forward from Algeria give a lot of problems to our centre backs and we could not find our wingers like we did the other day against South Africa. Today, they could not come give crosses and come on the side so, I think they (Algeria) were well organised and we could not find a solution because the pressing was very strong.”
Nigeria showed some improvements in the second half, for which Rohr praised his side but he also pointed out that his midfielders especially, still have aspects of their games where they must improve and expressed confidence that in time those improvements will come.
“[It] was better in the second half, we had some shooting in the goal [and] we had our goal. And I congratulate my players for this big fight against a very good team. We knew that in the tournament it’s becoming more and more difficult and today in the last minute they won it and they deserve it.
“So, we have to work much more, we are young, our midfield is the youngest one with [Wilfred] Ndidi, [Oghenekaro] Etebo and [Alex] Iwobi they have to learn tactically, they have to make a better communication but I think with time they will do it.”