Regardless of what Gernot Rohr may have said, attempting to deflect criticisms from his players, the eleven on the pitch at any time let him down in the defeat to South Africa.
Whether he cares about records or not, Gernot Rohr should know that victory or defeat against any South African football team is the de facto barometer for rating simply average and bad Coaches in Nigeria.
Regrettably, Gernot Rohr failed that audition and in the most humiliating way possible.
Nigeria had never lost to South Africa before in a competitive game – incidentally neither had Jose Mourinho lost to Arsene Wenger in same circumstance until this season.
What that record means is “over our dead bodies” will we allow Bafana Bafana beat us to first place in any kind of football “race”.
However, what looks likely is that lightning may very well strike twice.
But nothing on Saturday would suggest the score board at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium will read 2-0 at the end of 90 minutes.
Gernot Rohr’s starting XI wasn’t suspicious by any means.
Daniel Akpeyi in goal and a back four of William Troost-Ekong, Chidozie Awaziem, Shehu Abdullahi and experienced left-back Elderson Echiejile.
The midfield was perhaps the strongest on paper.
Onazi Ogenyi, Wilfred Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo providing cover for the back while Alex Iwobi, Simon Moses were the blitzing wing men to point man Kelechi Iheanacho.
Nothing was supposed to go wrong, two weeks of intensive preparation in France, a 1-1 draw against Corsica and a comfortable 3-0 victory over Claude Le Roy’s Togo was all the pointers for a punter to suggest the team was in good shape.
Saturday’s opponent had only just appointed Stuart Baxter in May, whilst he was Manager of PSL side Super Sport FC.
In fact his first practice session with his 25 players invited was not with the 25 – seven reported to camp injured.
With only a few days to train before they jetted out to Lagos en route Uyo, Baxter would have been contended with a point.
But his players and indeed the coach mused a silent tune of causing an upset on the grounds where in November 19, 2014 they stopped the Afcon champions from qualifying to defend their title at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.
Flying out of Uyo to Lagos enroute to Johannesburg pic.twitter.com/FOu4F5qsDV
— Bafana Bafana (@BafanaBafana) June 11, 2017
So, from the blast of Referee, Youssef Essrayri’s whistle they religiously stuck to the game plan – they allowed Nigeria play.
The Super Eagles were accorded a little too much of respect by the Bafana players in those opening minutes.
Echiejile was bursting down the left flank at will, Etebo and Ndidi couldn’t care less about defending and made frequent runs as well as pulling shots like it was as practice match.
The first chance of the game then fell to Iwobi, who side stepped to allow Ndidi rifle from the edge of the box.
That effort flew high, wide and aimlessly past Ntumeleng Khune’s goal.
Minutes later the Kaizer Chief’s first choice was alert for a brief moment after a messy attempt to tackle Simon Moses failed to stop the player.
Iheanacho picked the ball and cut back with a low cross but in-rushing Etebo could only manage to bungle it out of play, with Khune diving to his far right attempting a save.
Meanwhile, another advance by the Eagles saw a low cross come off the hand of South African defender, Furman but Etebo’s shout for a penalty was ignored despite marching right into the assistant referee’s face.
One time, Khune had to tip a Moses Simon dipping cross which almost caught him unawares.
Quite simply, Khune enjoyed the view inside the Stadium more than he was called to action in the first half.
On the other end, Akpeyi was auditioning for the first choice spot in the absence of Carl Ikeme, and all was going well until an innocuous cross from Tebogo Langerman stirred the nest.
The 31-year-old came off his line to cut off the cross, but clashed with Awaziem. And for a moment it seemed the ball was destined for the back of the net when Themba Zwane poked the ball, only it came off the upright.
That was a sign, clear enough for anyone to know this was an open contest and there were no favorites.
There were several flash points in the game where the Nigerian players should definitely had got cautions with Onazi, Awaziem and Echiejile the major culprits.
In the second half though, it was all South Africa.
They took the lead in the 54th minute through Tokelo Rantie whose header beat Daniel Akpeyi.
Rantie, 27, was left unmarked and he welcomed the perfect cross by Ramahlwe Mphahlele to silence the capacity crowd. It was the third time Rantie would create that freeze effect in Uyo.
Gernot Rohr responded five minutes later with substitutions of Musa for Iwobi and another in the 72nd minute with Olanrewaju coming on for Iheanacho.
The changes raised the Super Eagles’ tempo by a notch and the urgency almost produced a goal but for the slightest touch from Khune; after a goal mouth scramble, Etebo could have benefited.
The visitors repaid in kind, playing with complete confidence, South Africa prised open the Nigerian defence with some incisive play but again Zwane’s ferocious shot came off the upright after some delightful back heels and a eye catching feint.
At that point South Africa were poised to defend that single goal or score more, but Baxter had to call to his bench again as Rantie picked an injury and was replaced.
But they didn’t slack off. A quick play to beat the Eagles midfield saw Keagan Dolly out run Awaziem, who in turn impedes the midfielder in the box but again the Tunisian official waved play on.
Moments later, all that pressure paid off. South Africa from a counter attack; after Simon Moses lost the ball, punished Nigeria.
Dolly’s quick thinking released Percy Tau who had just came in for Rantie; It was another Rabbit from Baxter’s hat.
That was the nail on the coffin, confirming South Africa’s emergence from Nigeria’s strangle hold after 8 competitive attempts.
This was supposed to be the first of two games that may decide the winner of Group E. But Libya have turned the knob, strolled into the party and pulled a chair to join the high horses.
The Mediterranean knights trounced Seychelles 5-1 to go top of the group and next face Bafana Bafana on Matchday two of the qualifiers on 23 March 2018.
For now thought South Africa will cherish the win and a chance to stop Nigeria from reaching the Afcon again, if only it weren’t to premature.
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