ALEXANDRIA – Burundi’s superb organization coupled with the effects of sickness and injury to the Super Eagles were the main reasons why Nigeria were uninspiring and largely tepid in their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) opening 1-0 victory over the AFCON debutants.
Nigeria struggled to assert themselves over the lowest ranked team in Egypt who more than matched the three-time AFCON champions at the Alexandria Stadium on Saturday before substitute Odion Ighalo broke their resistance with a delightful winner in the 77th minute to spare the Super Eagles’ blushes.
Speaking to the media immediately after the game which marked the Super Eagles’ return to Africa’s football showpiece after six years, Rohr said Nigeria had anticipated a tough encounter in their opening game pointing to Burundi’s unbeaten run through the AFCON qualifiers as ample evidence that The Swallows were always going to be obdurate opponents.
“We could not make a better performance because the team of Burundi was very well organised, and we couldn’t have especially in the first half, the rhythm, and also I think especially what we had better in the second half, so we took a long time to come into this match and we didn’t have any opportunities in the first half because the other team was very well organised,” Rohr said in his post-match conference.
“We know that Burundi was unbeaten in the qualifiers and we knew also that this match, the first match will be very difficult. In our group, all the three matches will be tough matches because these teams like Burundi’s team, they don’t have anything to lose, they know us very well also, and they know how they can organise to play a defensive game against us,” he added.
Rohr had complained in the pre-match conference on Friday about certain players in his squad being ravaged by sickness and being unable to train. That situation was further compounded when Samuel Kalu suffered a health scare which ruled him out of the opener with Jamilu Collins also suffering an injury on the eve of the game.
Rohr said those developments affected his team’s game plan and were a factor in his decision to hand a starting berth to gangling striker Paul Onuachu ahead of Odion Ighalo who had led the scoring charts during qualifying. Onuachu had a less than impressive outing before being replaced by Ighalo and Rohr’s other change Ahmed Musa who came on in place of John Mikel Obi in the second half also added incisiveness and pace to the Eagles attack and contributed to a markedly better performance than the insipid fare served up before the interval.
“Our plan was to make them tired with quick passes but we missed the rhythm in the first half and in the second half it was better although we could not bring Musa and Ighalo from the beginning and [Leon] Balogun also and [Samuel] Kalu too because they were sick.
“We had big problems in the preparation because half of the team had a virus with fever and then yesterday we lost two players in the last training session – Jamilu Collins and Samuel Kalu. Notwithstanding, the solidarity of the team was here in this difficult moment, but we have to struggle so much to win it and this is because my colleague from Burundi [Olivier Niyugenko] made a good job today.”