The 2018 World Cup in Russia is only an intermediate stage for Nigeria’s national team, head coach Gernot Rohr told Xinhua in a recent interview.
Nigeria is the youngest team participating in Russia said the German-born coach. “For me, the team is still developing and will reach its peak at the 2022 World Cup. We shouldn’t forget this even though the excitement in Nigeria is massive.”
The 64-year old said the upcoming tournament would not be the end of the story “for a team with a current average age of 24.” To guide the team into the future, the coach recently extended his contract until 2020. “In a few years, we will see a Nigerian team that has gained experience and become even better.”
The former Bayern Munich and Girondins Bordeaux defender is happy about the excitement and enthusiasm but is demanding the fans and public stay realistic.
“We’ve basically relaunched the team and have included several of the country’s many talents. But they need to learn, and our task is to protect them from too big expectations,” Rohr underlined. “We want them to perform well as we are all ambitious, but know at the same time we shouldn’t want too much.”
Rohr said the team is willing to do everything to provide a surprise for the fans back home, but “everyone should remember the top international opponents in our group.”
2013 Africa Cup of Nations winner Nigeria will face Argentina, Croatia and Iceland in Group D. Rohr said surviving the group alone would be a major achievement and near a miracle.
The team will travel to Russia on June 11 well prepared after two pre-tournament training camps in Nigeria and Austria.
Rohr said it was of great value for the team to practice in Nigeria to see “the boundless enthusiasm of the fans back home. Many of our players play for clubs in Europe. Seeing how important the national team’s performance is to the Nigerian people is boosting the team’s motivation.”
The entire country is supporting the “Super Eagles” the former German and French champion emphasized. The national team is creating a lot of pride and hope back home.
It is essential for the team’s development and football’s general development in Nigeria to create a mood of optimism among the people Rohr commented. It seems to be working well as the World Cup shirt was sold out within minutes – especially as it is probably the most striking of all the 32 jerseys.
“We need to continue the improvements being made to the football infrastructure and built more pitches and set up academies run by the Nigerian federation,” Rohr said. The Super Eagles coach said the federation is full of ambitions and energy.
He called Nigeria a nation with deep roots in football. But patience is needed before they return to a top international level. “Major tournaments are vital for the team’s progress, not only the World Cup but the Africa Cup.”
Rohr said the entire team is full of anticipation although its strongest times are still to come. “The Nigerian senior team is highly promising with a great perspective,” the head coach emphasized.
Rohr took over the team in 2016 and has instilled a tactical and discipline framework. “The many young players now in the team have developed a great amount of team spirit. All strictly follow certain principles of a real team.”
Rohr mentioned Victor Moses (Chelsea) and John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda) as the team’s leaders. Like Mikel, Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai) also plays for a Chinese Super League club.