Nigeria using Sierra Leone disappointments as motivation - Iwobi, Rohr

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Why Iheanacho will cause a Nigerian selection headache (1:30)

Colin Udoh explains why Nigeria manager Gernot Rohr has to start Kelechi Ịheanachọ against Benin. (1:30)

Nigeria's Super Eagles go into their final two match days of Africa Cup of Nations qualification with the clear objective of qualifying in a manner that makes amends for the disappointment experienced when they last played at home.

When the Super Eagles hosted Sierra Leone in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in November, the fixture was expected to be the first leg of a victory parade to complete Gernot Rohr's trifecta of qualifying the country for major tournaments with at least a game to spare; victory would mean qualification was achieved with two games to spare.

The Super Eagles raced to a 4-1 halftime lead, and a raucous victory seemed likely. But the second half was entirely different as the Leone Stars rallied to a 4-4 draw that stunned even themselves and left the Nigerians shell-shocked.

Nigeria are now preparing to face Benin in the first of two games this week, and Everton's Alex Iwobi, who played in the trainwreck of a game against Sierra Leone, says it was a sobering lesson that the team would learn from going to Porto Novo.

"It was obviously clear to tell that we took our foot off the pedal and we weren't able to see the game through," Iwobi told ESPN.

"Going 4-0 up, I feel like we were over confident and we lost a bit of game management. We weren't professional enough to see the game through."

Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr pointed to external factors as responsible for mistakes that cost his team dear.

"When you show such a potential, the first half-hour, and then you go down there is at first a physical reason and we can explain why," Rohr told ESPN.

"Because there was a long traveling -- very long -- longer than ever because of these restrictions of COVID. Some of [the Super Eagles] arriving [in camp] only the day before. Preparation was very short, only one training session with all the players. So, it's never good. There was also a problem with the hot weather for the players coming from Europe."

But the German conceded his players also displayed psychological naïveté.

"We have still a very young team and I think they believed, they heard [Sierra Leone] are not good, it will be easy six points in two games.

"Then when you lead 4-0, you believe that [pundits and Nigeria fans] are right and you can be too relaxed in the second half. This was psychologically the situation. [Nigeria] were too relaxed in the second half, making mistakes.

"One player calling me a few days later, he saw the game again. He said, 'Coach, I want to apologize for my mistake that lessons s. I went forward but I did two big mistakes in defending.'"

Iwobi said that lessons learned from the mistakes would help the Super Eagles in the final round of qualifying matches.

"The aim of every game is to win," Iwobi told ESPN.

"And looking back at the last game against Sierra Leone, we had the opportunity to do that but we didn't. We will use that as motivation and try to put things right in the next two games, and we will learn from our mistakes.

"We already analyzed it and we know what we have to. We just have to prove it to ourselves that we can win the next two games.

To win one or both of the qualifying matches -- away to Benin on Saturday before finishing the campaign at home to Lesotho next Tuesday -- Rohr will have some big decisions to make. And they are decisions that present the sort of headache any coach would love to have.

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Goalkeeper Francis Uzoho is back from injury, and he has been playing, and looking great, for his club, APOEL Nicosia. In his absence he has been usurped by Maduka Okoye, whom Rohr insists is No. 1 for no, but the coach still has a big call to make in deciding whether to retain the Sparta Rotterdam goalkeeper or reinstall Uzoho, who has both World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations experience.

Elsewhere, Rohr also has decisions to make about Victor Osimhen. The Napoli striker is clearly the German's top choice, and his series-leading four goals is ample justification for that belief, but a combination of injuries and COVID-19 mean he has scored just one league goal since November; by contrast, the other two strikers on Rohr's roster are hotter than Cameroon chili pepper.

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Paul Onuachu has 26 goals from 29 games, and Rohr has spent time fielding questions about how best to coach him to replicate that form for Nigeria.

And then there is Kelechi Iheanacho, whose nine goals in nine games, including six goals in the past four, would all but make him an automatic starter. But Iheanacho operates best in a two-man strike force, rather than in the lone forager role that Osimhen is so good at playing.

Could the Leicester City man's form force the coach into a change in formation, abandoning his preferred 4-3-3 for the more solid but efficient 3-5-2 with Iheanacho and Osimhen upfront.

Rohr says it is a problem he is happy to have at both ends of the pitch.

"That is good headache, when you have a choice between such good players who are in confidence now," Rohr told.

"We have the comeback of Uzoho after nearly one year and half; it is a long time coming back, and we are happy about it.

"Kelechi is scoring goals, and we are very happy about it. It is good to have players who can score goals. We will see when we do training and then we decide what we do for the match.

"It is good competition, and fair competition, and very good for the group. It is a good headache. I am happy about it and I can sleep well."

Selection headache aside, Rohr wants his players to see the game against Benin as redemption for the results in the back-to-back fixtures against Sierra Leone.

"We have to make compensation for the fans, and we also want to qualify," Rohr said.

"The second game against Sierra Leone was not a better result. But it should be a better result because we scored a goal that was not offside. We scored a goal by header from Iheanacho and it was not offside, but still the 0-0 is not a bad result because you make a draw away in bad conditions.

"Now, we have to show the people that we can play good football and we can score goals and we can be disciplined."

Nigeria play Benin on Saturday, a few hours after Lesotho host Sierra Leone play, and the Super Eagles can qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations before kicking a ball if the earlier game ends in anything other than a win for Sierra Leone.