By Olawale Alabi/ Olanrewaju Akojede/ Igbaugba Ehigimetor/ Kemi Ajayi/ Victor Okoye
Super Eagles’ Head Coach, Gernot Rohr, on Saturday said the team’s 0-2 loss to Croatia in their opening match of Russia 2018 was due to “many mistakes’’.
Rohr, while speaking at the post-match conference of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Group D fixture, said he and his players were aware they made some important mistakes during the game.
In the match played in Kaliningrad, the Eagles lost through an own goal by Oghenekaro Etebo and a Luka Modric penalty kick.
“We know we made some mistakes, too many important mistakes, and it is clear that we need to get better in order to move on,’’ the coach said.
He said the entire team was disappointed at the result, adding that they needed to work on being professional with the set-pieces.
“Our organisation was good, that is clear just as the tactics were not wrong, but we need to be more professional in the way we take the set-pieces. We need to be better before our next game,’’ he added.
Rohr, who admitted that the loss had made their task more herculean, said team Captain, Mikel Obi’s performance in the game was satisfactory just as he equally praised the defenders.
“Mikel has since I took over always been playing the way we deployed him today, and this has yielded results for us.
“But, he couldn’t have done better than he did today, because of the quality of those he was playing against.
“He had Ivan Rakitic of FC Barcelona and Luka Modric of Real Madrid playing against him, and they are of good quality and playing for clubs bigger than that of Mikel who plays in China.
“So, he really did well,’’ he said.
On the 62nd minute substitution of Alex Iwobi, the coach said it was not done out of poor performance by the Arsenal FC player.
“Iwobi deserved his starting place, based on his performances in the last few days. He only had big work to do with the full back, and this took much out of him.
“However, he did well and I don’t think he shouldn’t have started the game,’’ he said.
Rohr, however, assured that he and his assistants would go on to ensure the team was improved upon before their June 22 date with Iceland in Volgograd.
“We will improve because it is important for us. We have to get better in order to move forward,’’ he said.
However, Nigeria’s Ex-International, and member of the all-conquering 1980 African Cup of Nations team, Felix Owolabi has said that Rohr should take the responsibility for the team’s 0-2 loss to Croatia.
Owolabi, made the submission in his reaction to the Eagles first game loss at the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup on Saturday in Lagos.
The ex Green Eagles winger, popularly called “Owo Blow’’ said the coach made some tactical blunders in his substitutions which affected the performance of the team.
“I think the greatest mistake is from the coach. I don’t see any reason for the removal of Alex Iwobi because as soon as he removed him, the whole team was disorganised.
“For me, removing Iwobi was a step in the wrong direction because the team after that lacked cutting edge, the coach should have seen the problem.
“Another error from the coach is fielding Shehu Abdullahi. The guy is not doing enough in that position, he should have asked Victor Moses to stay as the right back.
“Using Moses as a wing back would have necessitated more options, while he assists in the attack because there was no true connection between the midfield and attack,” he said.
Owolabi, who spent 15 years playing for IICC Shooting Stars and during his playing days won the 1992 CAF Cup, also said that the Eagles defence lacked cohesion.
“The defence lacked cohesion and also the changes were not helpful. At the time he substituted Mikel Obi, he should have brought in another strong person to control the midfield.
“For me, it is not the fault of the players, because some of them played out of their normal positions. The players are willing, but the style is not helpful.
“However, we may not conclude yet, maybe the coach could have recognised the mistakes and will correct them before the next match.
“The coach should understand the character of each player and don’t use them out of their normal position because it will be a silly mistake,” he said.
In his reaction, Coach of the Falconets, Chris Danjuma, urged Nigerians to be patient and give the Super Eagles a chance, especially the present set of players.
Danjuma made the call in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Benin, while reacting to the Eagles 0-2 loss to Croatia.
He said the present crop of players, if given the chance, would take the world by storm in another year or two.
“We need to be a little patient with the team and it is very important; we must as a nation have developmental mentality.
“We must understand that this is the first time majority of these guys will be playing at this stage; some of them have never played even at the Nation’s Cup.
“Why don’t we give them room to develop? Why don’t we understand that this is a team for the future? I think that if we carry that mentality we will see progress in this team.
“From every great team you see today, there had been a level of building and progress; no team just became great today without going through this process.
“This team will play better as the tournament progresses; today, Iceland sprang a surprise; who says Nigeria cannot do that,” he stated.
Ibrahim Saliu, said inexperience was a deciding factor in the opening match.
He also blamed avoidable mistakes on the part of some of the Super Eagles players for the loss.
According to Saliu, though we had a good game, the eagles lost to inexperience and naivety.
“In spite of the loss, we still have a good chance of progressing from the group stage.”
Similarly, Aliu Alemma-Ozioruva, said the Eagles lacked a play maker who could have dictated the pace of the game and built confidence of the young players in the team.
While noting that the team had a good game, he said that the score was the only disappointing thing.
Mutiu Adepoju, an ex-international told NAN, in his reaction, that it was sad that the team could not get a point from their first match.
Adepoju advised the team’s coach Gernot Rohr to calm the players down and restrategise ahead of their second group match.
“The defeat is a very sad one, going into the game. I previewed that the encounter against Croatia would not be easy owing to their level of technicality.
“The coach should come up with another game plan for the next match and also calm the players down,” he said.
Ifalade Oyekan, a board member of the Lagos State Football Association, told NAN that the players should step up their game.
Oyekan urged Nigerians not to write the team-off in the competition.
“It is very unfortunate that the team was defeated but Nigerians should not be discouraged because this is football where anything is possible,” he said.
Also, Idowu Hassan, a grassroots coach in Lagos, told NAN that the Super Eagles formation against The Blazzers was bad.
Hassan urged the coach to come up with formidable tactics in their next encounter against Iceland.
“The formation adopted by Rohr cost us this game, if we still want to remain in the competition, the coach must come up with something better in our next match.
A former chairman, Nigeria Football Association (NFA), Alhaji Aminu Maigari said the Super Eagles did not play too badly in their 0-2 loss against Croatia on Saturday.
Maigari passed the verdict in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Bauchi.
“The match wasn’t too bad. So now we are looking forward to the next matches, I believe we will improve and do the right thing.
” In the game of football, they should now sit down in a lecture hall so that they should analyse their mistakes.
“Where they need to improve, they should improve and where they should sustain, they should sustain. Individually and collectively they should bring the game back to the right,” he stressed.
Another seasoned football administrator, Alhaji Sani Toro, said that there was still chance for the Super Eagles to improve on their performance.
“There are still chances but we need to put our heads together and be committed.
“The group is not an easy one because people earlier thought Argentina will have supremacy over the rest of the team in the group but it didn’t win its first game,” he said.
The National Vice President, Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) Umar Said, also described the encounter as “a good match.”
He said that Nigeria lost the match to to Croatia due to inexperience on the part of the players.
“There is need for our players to play as a team, by providing a ‘three-positional play.
“The second goal by the Croatians was due to inexperience too by our defenders and the technical crew of the team needs to do a major surgical operation before our second match.
“This is necessary because once we lose our second match, I think we are out of the tournament,” he said.
A cross section of football fans in Abuja, who spoke to NAN at a viewing centre in Maitama, said the Eagles got their tactics and formation wrong against the Croats.
Temitope Badmus, a Civil Servant said the players were not coordinated, adding that the coach failed to make the necessary substitutions on time.
“I believe the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) did their best to ensure that this team was adequately prepared for the World Cup this time around.
“I must confess that I am really disappointed in the players as none could muster a good shot at goal.
“Mikel seemed lost, Moses kept falling and complaining at every slightest touch by the opponents and Coach Gernot Rohr made his substitutions too late.
“The coach must learn to substitute any player not playing well on time. I must say he failed in that regard today,” he said.
Obi Uchendu, a businessman noted that the goals conceded by the Eagles were “school boy errors”.
“We conceded all our goals through set pieces which clearly shows that the team is yet to learn the right approach in defending set pieces, which has been our major issue.
“The own goal conceded by Etebo could have been avoided and William Troost-Ekong had no reason wrapping his arms around Manduzkic the way he did.
“It was undoubtedly a clear penalty call by the referee,” he said.
Robert Akpan, a lawyer blamed the coach for the poor performance of the team.
“I think a lot of things did go wrong. Firstly, I think it was about the fitness and positioning of the players.
“In a situation where you field players like Wilfred Ndidi and Leon Balogun, who were reportedly injured and not a 100 percent fit to play in a crucial World Cup opening game what result do you expect to get?
“Balogun struggled throughout the week and only had a light training session on Friday.
“Ndidi was also not 100 percent fit and struggled throughout the Super Eagles pre-world cup preparations as he only got 90 minutes in the friendly against Czech Republic.
“It was therefore surprising to see that these players were allowed to play for the whole 90 minutes in a high profile match such as this one,” he said.
Akpan also added that most of the key players were played out of position which distorted the formation of the team.
“For instance, Alex Iwobi and Victor Moses who are natural wing players often dropped to deep to get the ball before they attack.
“Odion Ighalo was also starved of the necessary supply and had to track back often times to get the ball.
“This destabilized the whole formation of the team as the midfield struggled to keep position and lacked the necessary bite upfront to cause the Croats any serious problem.
“I hope the coach and his technical crew saw the flaws in the game and will hopefully get back to the drawing board to correct the errors,” he said.
Yisa Audu, a salesman, on his part said the Eagles were the better side, especially in the first half in which they dominated and dictated the pace of the game.
“We played well, especially in the first half but for the errors, we could have gone ahead to win or at most get a draw.
“I still believe that this our young team have the potential to go far in this tournament.
“We still have six points to play for and hopefully the team can up their game a little more and get maximum points or at least four from our remaining games,” he said.
Eagles are now rooted in the last place of the Group D with no point.
Croatia tops the group with three points followed by Iceland and Argentina with a point each.
Nigeria will now face Iceland in Volgograd on June 22 in their second match, while Croatia take on Argentina in the group’s other game.