Director Of Super Eagles Rohr Trust In Qatar 2022
Indeed, many questioned their ability to make it to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia ™, especially after being tied in an extremely difficult group alongside Algeria, Zambia and Cameroon.
Despite these difficulties, Rohr rejuvenated the team by summoning the best European players such as Kelechi Iheanacho, Wilfred Ndidi and Alex Iwobi. These talented youngsters helped the Super Eagles reach the World Cup undefeated and impress at Russia 2018, where they only missed the knockout phase after narrowly losing their last group match to Argentina.
In a conversation with FIFA.com, Rohr spoke about his coaching career in Africa, his ambitions to reach Qatar 2022 with Nigeria and his desire to lead the Super Eagles to the quarter-finals for the first time.
FIFA.com: You are one of the few German coaches who has worked and succeeded in Africa. Why is that?
Gernot Rohr: I always try to work effectively and respectfully, particularly adapting to the African mindset.
FIFA: You have trained in five different African countries, namely: Tunisia, Gabon, Niger, Burkina Faso and now Nigeria. What are the unique characteristics of each country?
Rohr: I started my journey through Africa in Tunisia in Etoile du Sahel. This was my first experience in Africa before switching to national teams. In Tunisia, I witnessed first-hand the high level of organization and sports facilities, given that the club has won the African Champions League.
It was a good experience for me. After that, I had my first experience coaching a national team with Gabon, where I learned a lot and had wonderful memories. We developed a lot in that period, thanks to the former Minister of Youth and Sports, who made it easier for us because he knew football well. We reached the African Cup of Nations in 2012, when we reached the knockout phase before losing to Mali on a penalty shoot-out.
FIFA: So you were appointed coach of Niger?
Rohr: In Niger, they wanted to qualify for the African Cup of Nations, and we were able to do so after beating Guinea. We did good performances in the 2013 final in South Africa, a very hot country where we saw temperatures reach 47 degrees. Despite playing on very tough fields, the players showed great determination and solidarity.
I have fond memories of my time in Niger. As for Burkina Faso, we went through a difficult time in 2015, when politics had a huge impact on sports, so I decided to leave after only one year.
FIFA: Then you moved to Nigeria after you couldn’t make it to AFCON 2017. How did you overcome the challenge there?
Rohr: Nigeria differs from its predecessors in terms of culture and language. There are 200 million people living there. After they didn’t make it to the Nations Cup, they needed to rebuild the squad, so I decided to call up relatively unknown young players who had just turned 18, like Iheanacho and Iwobi. My assistant and I were able to create harmony and balance in a squad led by our captain (John) Obi Mikel.
FIFA: Despite the youth of the team, did you take Nigeria to Russia 2018 after winning a difficult group that included Zambia, AFCON champions in 2013, Cameroon in 2017 and Algeria in 2019?
Rohr: We had a great first game in Zambia, which gave us a fantastic start. We put in a young squad that included Iheanacho and Ndidi in addition to Iwobi, who scored. We were 2-0 up at the end of the first half. We had a wonderful goalkeeper in Carl Ikeme, who played a great game, but sadly his career was cut short due to illness.
We then beat Algeria at home, which brought us to six points, while our opponents only had one. We continued our successful streak by beating Cameron 4-0 and defeating Zambia to finish qualifying undefeated, before losing our game to Algeria (Nigeria sent an ineligible player) despite the final game ending in a draw 1-1.
FIFA: Nigeria performed well in Russia 2018. Did you feel that your team deserved to qualify for the knockout phase?
Rohr: Yes, we deserved to qualify. We played very well especially against Iceland, and we had a goalkeeper who was only 18 years old. Against Argentina, we needed a few more minutes to counterattack (after their late goal), and the little details made the difference in the end. We almost got a second penalty, but the VAR denied it. However, what we did in Russia was very encouraging.
FIFA: After that, Victor Moses, Obi Mikel and Odion Ighalo announced their retirement from international football. How did you feel about your decisions
FIFA: We are only a few months away from the start of the second round of the Qatar 2022 African qualifiers. What do you think of your group and your rivals?
Rohr: We have three opponents in the group and we have to respect all of them. Liberia is a team that cannot be underestimated as we saw when we beat them in a friendly. As for Cape Verde, they have players of Portuguese and Brazilian origin, and they can beat any team.
Central African Republic are unknown to us, which makes it more difficult. I think the group is tough, but we believe in our abilities. Since we qualify from the group of death for Russia 2018, we are confident that we can do it this time too.
FIFA: Are there any teams you want to avoid in the final qualifying round, like Algeria and Senegal?
Rohr: There will be fierce competition anyway, but when we play without fans we will lose the excitement. I hope that the fans can attend the matches next year as this will make the matches more enjoyable.
FIFA: After that long hiatus imposed by Covid, are you in touch with the players and do you have an idea how to prepare for the next period?
Rohr: We are in constant communication with the players, the technical staff, the coaches, the video analyst and the entire coaching staff. Every week we see the players and travel sometimes to meet them as well. I recently visited (Kevin) Akpoguma, who plays for Hoffenheim.
He made the decision to play for Nigeria after representing Germany at the youth level. I also stay in touch with the Nigerian soccer leaders, with whom I successfully negotiated a contract extension until Qatar 2022, on the condition that we qualify. It has definitely been a unique period.
FIFA: If you come to Qatar 2022, will taking Nigeria to the quarter-finals for the first time be your main objective, especially with this new generation of players?
Rohr: We will take it step by step. We have to qualify first, and if we do, we will see our group in the final. We will try to go to the knockout phase, which we were very close to two years ago. We have to work hard to achieve it.
FIFA: As a long-time coach of Africa, which teams do you think are the favorites to qualify for Qatar 2022?
Rohr: You will get the answer if you look at the FIFA Ranking. I think the five best teams in the Ranking will do it.
FIFA: Finally, what message do you want to send in these times of pandemic?
Rohr: I hope all the players and fans stay healthy and safe. I also hope that life will return to normal so that the fans can travel and attend the games, which in turn will bring football back to life.