ALEXANDRIA – Super Eagles head coach Gernot Rohr has declared that Nigeria’s shock 2-0 loss to minnows and Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) debutants Madagascar which saw the three-time AFCON champions finish in second place behind the tiny Island nation in Group B is “not a shame”.
Nigeria had never lost to Madagascar in four previous meetings but goals either side of half time from Lalaina Nomenjanahary and Carolus Andriamahitsinoro at the Alexandria Stadium condemned the Super Eagles to defeat against a team ranked 63 places below them.
It was a desperately poor performance by Nigeria who have the third youngest squad at the AFCON but appeared lethargic and were distinctly second best throughout the encounter against a team that are the oldest in the tournament and which had a day less rest.
While Rohr, who had already qualified the Super Eagles for the Round of 16 with a game to spare made five changes to his team, Nicolas Dupuis stuck with the same team that had beaten Burundi 1-0 in their last match and Nigeria’s coach suggested that the fact of having already qualified made his players complacent against the East Africans.
“It’s normal to change the team, we are already qualified and we have eleven players and a lot of them deserved to play,” Rohr said in explaining his starting lineup.
“We wanted to give some rest to some of them today since we were qualified before the game so I think in the mind of some players, it was not so important today to win than the next game but we tried to have a team with fresh players.
“But the beginning of the match with the gift for the first goal was making Madagascar very strong and again I have to say they deserved the victory with the counter football and very good defensive organization and we couldn’t find the solutions.”
Nigeria had been expected to win the group which featured Guinea alongside two AFCON debutants in Burundi and Madagascar but the surprising loss to unbeaten Madagascar meant the Super Eagles finished in second place behind their conquerors.
And for Nigeria’s manager, while the loss might have seemed an upset, it wasn’t entirely unexpected given that Madagascar were the first team to qualify for the AFCON.
“They deserve it,” Rohr said of Madagascar’s victory. “And I think the good work of my colleague (Nicolas Dupuis) with this team which was the first one to qualify for the AFCON already in October they have a good team and it’s not a shame to lose a match against such a team.”