With probability, superior quality and a secure base on his side, the German manager cannot afford to re-polish his lines on Sunday in Douala.
The morning after Thursday’s shocking defeat at the hands of the Central African Republic, for many fans of the Nigerian national team, it assumed a very dreamlike quality.
Much has been made of the fact that Nigeria had not previously lost a World Cup qualifier at home for 40 years, an entire generation witnessing the Super Eagles defeat on their own patch for the first time. However, even that momentous piece of history paled in comparison to the position of the victor in question; The 1981 loss to Algeria hurt and scored, but at least it got to the side that had contested the final of the African Cup of Nations a year earlier, and that would stun the mighty Germans a year later at the World Cup in Spain.
The Central African Republic does not have a significant footprint of any kind in African football.
Think of David versus Goliath, but in this case David with one hand tied behind his back and with a patch over one eye.
Still, the victory was comfortable and well earned. Gernot Rohr bragged about missed chances after the game, but the closest his team got was that Victor Osimhen hit the goal frame with a missed cross. It was a siege, but lacking in conviction, logic or contemplation and so easily rejected.
The visitors seemed clear in the conception of their own game plan and were very careful to implement it.
The most damning aspect of the loss was that, except for throwing across the forward bench, Nigeria was unable to offer a different look at any point during the process.
Instead, there was panic, a frenzied state that generated trust in the hearts and minds of the Wild Beasts and culminated directly in their latest winner.
Ending the game with Ahmed Musa making an unconvincing moonlighting as a near-midfielder, even if the score had been kept scoreless at the final whistle of the referee’s whistle, would have been excellent validation for the Central African Republic’s efforts on its own.
So Nigeria holds the top spot in the group, but by a smaller margin than anyone would have imagined after three games: both Cape Verde and the Central African Republic are only two points behind. This then imbues Sunday’s rematch with greater significance, as anything short of a win would cause Cape Verde to level the point differential or even rise to the top. Now everything is unnecessarily dangerous.
Yet that broader view is one that Rohr’s side cannot afford to adopt.
It would be useful to ignore any other considerations and reduce the occasion to a simple meeting of the respective teams. Within that dynamic, individual quality (let’s face it: that’s the only advantage, especially since Nigeria’s German boss has already proven tactically inferior to Raoul Savoy) should guarantee superiority nine times out of ten, especially with a couple of factors taken. consider.
On the one hand, by its very nature, a performance like that of the visitors is unlikely to be repeated, born out of a historic endeavor.
The hand has been played and Rohr and his staff will have noticed it. In theory, it will be much easier to assess (and access) any cracks in the armor and increase the stakes.
In addition, the surface in Douala will offer more safety underfoot and facilitate the execution for Nigeria. The pitch at Teslim Balogun Stadium was and has been a handicap, albeit self-inflicted. Creation is a more difficult action, more precise than destruction, so on Thursday the rugged terrain was the ally of the Central African Republic. This will not be the case in Cameroon on Sunday.
Of course, this just means that there can be no excuses and nowhere to hide for Nigeria and their 68-year-old coach in case lightning strikes twice.
That comes with its own pressure, but also an imperative to be the star of the day. However, the question is: what exactly can Rohr do differently?
His midfield selection has already significantly crippled the team, limiting its range of solutions, and if Thursday taught anything, it is that more forwards in the fray is not an answer in itself without the means to disrupt the opponent’s organization and provide them with ammunition. .
A three on the rear system, preferably 3-4-3, would seem like a reasonable compromise, especially as the Central African Republic showed little appetite for attacking across wide areas in the first game. The task of creativity would then pass to the inside forwards, in the absence of a suitable creator on the roster.
That is one of many possible solutions, of course; what is clear is that Rohr must do something different in Douala. With two more days of raids under his belt, the German now faces probably the harshest scrutiny of his time in charge of Nigeria, but from the most unlikely sources.