CAIRO – As Nigeria’s campaign in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations nears an end, head coach Gernot Rohr has been assessing his team’s performance in the tournament and his verdict? Despite his team’s failure to reach the final, Rohr said the AFCON has been “a good tournament for our young team” with “a lot of positive things”.
The Super Eagles’ record in Egypt so far reads, four wins, two defeats – including a shock loss to minnows and AFCON debutants Madagascar, eight goals scored and seven conceded.
And while Sunday’s semifinal loss to Algeria might have been a “disappointment” which crushed Nigeria’s dream of playing in the “big final”, Rohr said Wednesday’s third-place match against Tunisia still is a final, albeit “a little final” and that his team’s run so far, has been on the whole, a good one.
In terms of positives, Rohr pointed to the stirring victories over defending champions the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in the round of 16 and Bafana Bafana of South Africa in the quarterfinals as moments when his team scaled the heights of excellence.
The coach whose future has been up in the air since the semifinal loss to Algeria, also lauded the fighting spirit which he said was evident even in the loss to Algeria.
“The tournament is not finished yet, it’s still one little final to play, unfortunately, it’s not a big final but despite the disappointment, there are a lot of positive things,” Rohr told busybuddiesng.com.
“Our team fought very well until [Sunday] and they did very, very good matches. They won against the champions [Cameroon], they beat South Africa who beat Egypt with wonderful matches even [the match against Algeria] was a very good fight.”
Nigeria’s squad to the tournament is the joint third youngest of all 24 teams and also have twenty players making their first ever appearance at a Nations Cup.
This youthfulness and relative inexperience, Rohr said, has shown up in his team’s struggle for consistency and against Algeria, Nigeria’s coach said his “young team” fell to the “stronger character” shown by “the best team of the tournament”.
But notwithstanding that loss, Rohr believes his team has had a good tournament and have “played good football”.
“We have a young team, still a young team and it’s all the time, difficult for young players [to show consistency] a few days after a good match. It was the case [against Algeria].
“I think we played against the best team of the tournament. They are really strong; they have a stronger character than perhaps our young players but they try to do very well. So, the tournament until now, is a good tournament for our young team. They played good football.”
However, not every aspect of his side’s campaign has found favour in the eyes of the 66-year-old, with a leaky defence which has seen the Super Eagles ship seven goals so far, an area of prime concern. And just as he did in the post-match press conference after the loss to Algeria, Rohr once more reiterated that there still is a lot his team needs to learn.
“We conceded too many goals,” Rohr told busybuddiesng.com. “When you concede seven goals in five matches, it is too much and even, we conceded these seven goals in three matches only because we started with two clean sheets.
“So, it’s too much, too many mistakes behind; a lot of goals are gifts or own goals or freekicks and we have to learn. I have still a young team and I think the football is good but we have to learn a lot again.”