Former Super Eagles midfielder, Garba Lawal in this interview with Completesportsnigeria. com’s JOHNNY EDWARD recalls his France 1998 World Cup experience and predicts the current Gernot Rohr’s team’s chances at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia this summer.
You played at the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France, could you share your experience with us?
It was a memorable one. Every player’s dream is to play at the World Cup and I was lucky to have represented Nigeria at the 1998 edition in France. The opening game against Spain will go down as one of the greatest comeback wins we recorded in the history of the tournament. I provided an assist and scored the leveler for the team before Sunday Oliseh sealed it with that wonderful goal.
We had so many talented players in that squad at that time. If you made that Nigeria’s1998 squad, you must thank God for that because there were lots of exceptional players around then who were playing weekly for their respective clubs and that’s why lots of great players cry and regret when they miss the World Cup.
It meant the world to me and I won’t ever forget that I scored against one of the best goalkeepers (Andoni Zubizarreta) in the world at that time and in the history of Spanish football in general.
What are the chances of the Super Eagles doing well in Russia this summer, considering the kind of Group D opponents they will confront?
We have a good chance like the other teams. It’s not going to be easy for the Super Eagles, but we must be clinical. We must win games to go far in the tournament which is important. Our opening game against Croatia is a must win if we are to stand a chance of making it to the next round.
We have seen Gernot Rohr’s midfield in different formations with different players. In your opinion, which players are the best for the Super Eagles in that position?
We both are not in the counsel of the coach. The manager will tell us through his selections. My opinion won’t change anything, neither yours. All I know is we need experience to excel in Russia. Mikel Obi is aging, but he has experience in abundance. The way he plays now can’t be compared to the way he started out. It’s normal that he can’t play 90 minutes at this level now consistently. His exposure at the biggest stage in football is key to our success in Russia. I hope the younger players will help him in the middle.
Who else do you think will complement Mikel’s experience in the midfield?
The likes of Ogenyi Onazi and Wilfred Ndidi can provide solid defensive cover for Mikel to be free to operate well behind the striker. The pair also can provide shield for the centre-backs. That will be a solid paring in my opinion, but the coach will decide.
In terms of creativity, the burden falls on Mikel. Do you think our team can compete against the likes of Croatia’s Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ever Banega and the likes?
I won’t give a straight answer because that is down to the talent this current generation have produced. The 1994 and 1998 squads never depended on any player to get going when it got tough. But now when a player is out of the team due to one reason or the other, there’s problem, Nigeria start panicking. Then we had two quality players in every position and you can call on any player to fill in the void, but now, we will start thinking. Same cannot be said of this current squad.
By now we should know who is in and who is out judging from the consistency of our players at club level and what they have done during the course of the qualifiers. We don’t have those kind of consistent players anymore. Creativity is lacking, no doubt, but what we lack in that area we have in strength, power and hard work.
It baffles me most times. I wonder If the current crop of players ask themselves why many people still rate the 1994, 1996 and 1998 squad as the best Super Eagles team ever. They don’t show in their game that they want to leave a legacy behind with the way they play. There’s a problem already and they are comfortable dropping it at the feet of the coach. Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi, Moses Simon, Kelechi Iheanacho can create chances, but can they compete with those names you called out?
Do Super Eagles depend on individual players in this current squad to win games?
Well, I believe football is a team game. Rohr will tell us that. But it’s obvious that when some players are missing, we struggle to hit the gear in games. The team struggles without Mikel, so that answers your question, but they need to be encouraged.
What formation will you rather suggest the Super Eagles deploy with the calibre of players Gernot Rohr has in the midfield?
You approach a game based on the strength of your opponent and the players you have at your disposal. So Rohr may decide to go with a 4-4-2, 4-1-4-1, 3-5-2 or 4-2-3-1.
Super Eagles also don’t have quality options in the striking role with Odion Ighalo as the team’s only recognized striker. Do you think he can deliver in Russia?
He is our best bet going into the World Cup. But the likes of Ahmed Musa, Kelechi Iheanacho could also provide cover in that role as well. We need all these players to be in good shape for the World Cup.