DURBAN – It may be the first of its kind for Gernot Rohr with the Super Eagles of Nigeria, but his philosophy of blending experience with youth could be a winning formula.
Having taken the hot seat in 2016, the Super Eagles coach is guiding his team at the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time, despite having already shown his prowess by helping them qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
Granted that might have turned out to be a disastrous campaign as the Nigerians were knocked out of the group stage, the German tactician’s ability to keep experienced campaigners from that squad such as captain John Obi Mikel, Odion Ighalo and Ahmed Musa, while blending them with exciting prospects Samuel Chukwueze, Paul Onuacho and Alex Iwobi is what will likely put his team head and shoulders above their counterparts at Afcon.
In the opener against Burundi on Saturday, Rohr gave starting berths to young gems Chukwueze (20), Onuacho (25) and Iwobi (23) as they huffed and puffed in the first half to repay the faith shown to them by their coach.
Instead it was Ighalo who changed the course of the game by coming off the bench and scoring the winner which earned the Super Eagles all three points at Cairo’s Alexandria Stadium. The result took them to the summit of Group B.
The Nigerians return to the same venue this afternoon, hoping to make it two wins from two as they square off against Guinea, who are arguably their biggest threat in the group.
The Guineans will certainly not be walkovers even though they drew with debutants Madagascar in their Afcon opener.
As things stand both Nigeria and Guinea remain favourites to top Group B. Going into today’s encounter, expect the battle to be won in the engine room. After getting a few minutes under his belt against Burundi as he works his way back to full-fitness, Liverpool and Guinea’s Naby Keita will be hoping to start this afternoon as he looks to marshal his team’s midfield.
Keita will be welcomed by a familiar rival in Winfred Ndidi, 23, as the duo are used to battling it out at domestic league level for Liverpool and Leicester City respectively.