Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr has once again push aside worries over his team’s losses in their last two World Cup build-up matches, as he says they will exhibit a different ball game against Croatia on Saturday.
Although the Franco-German soccer tacticians admitted that losing to England and Czech Republic had damaging psychological effects on the players, Rohr stressed that they have all overcome the setbacks and are eager to show sterner stuff at the Mundial.
Rohr would be the first to admit that the statistics from these friendlies are not rosy, but he insists the underdog tag that has come as a result suits him and his wards quite nicely.
Nigeria’s first match of the finals is against Croatia on Saturday, with the Eagles logging a balanced record of having won their opening match at the World Cup on two occasions, drawn once and lost twice.
On the three occasions they have not lost their opening match (1994, 1998, 2014), the Eagles have progressed to the Round of 16.
A poor recent record, being the lowest –ranked team in Group D and the lowest –ranked African team in the finals, plus a recent tag by FIFA as mere ‘perennial World Cup appearance –makers’ all tend to project the Eagles as a side waiting to be rolled over.
That would be the biggest mistake of big teams, as Nigeria’s senior team has the knack for coming to the party when least expected.
Lumped with Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia in the African qualifying race, the Eagles made short work of the pool, emerging winners with a match to spare, including a shock 4-0 hammering African champions, Cameroon in Uyo.
In 1994, the Eagles, after winning the Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia, failed to excite in friendly games leading to the World Cup.
As debutants, they thrashed Bulgaria 3-0 on a sunny afternoon in Cotton Bowl, Dallas and, four years later, they lost 1-5 to Netherlands in their last friendly game en route to France ’98.
There they went on to shock World Cup favourites, Spain 3-2 in their opening game at Stade de la Beaujoire in Nantes, France and beat Bulgaria, only to lose against Paraguay in their last group game and 4-1 to Denmark in the second round.
Rohr has only lost one competitive game since taking over the Eagles two years ago, and the former German international defender says his wards know how to get their spring back when the whistle goes for kick –off at the Kaliningrad Arena on Saturday.
“We are okay with the garb of the underdog. But the defeats have done something for us – we have our heads firmly on our shoulders and we are focused.
“Together, we have reviewed the matches and learnt so many lessons. We will approach the World Cup matches differently.
“We will take it one match at a time. I love this group because we know how to rise to the occasion together. Nigeria will be ready for Croatia,” said Rohr.