Can Nigeria make a World Cup impact? Their coach isn't convinced...

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Iheanacho: Everywhere I look Nigerians are scoring! (1:10)

Kelechi Iheanacho is amused by the number of Nigerian strikers currently in goal scoring form across Europe. (1:10)

Nigeria players were in phenomenal form for their European clubs this season, especially in 2021, but Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr remains unconvinced that they can reach the FIFA World Cup knockout stages in 2022.

The coach's main concern is that while players, like Paul Onuachu who won Belgium's Player of the Year and Golden Boot after a record-breaking season, bang goals in on the regular, they are not at top-tier clubs.

Nigeria forwards called up by Rohr over the last two international windows have tallied close to 150 goals in the past season. That is by far the highest among African countries, with the closest being Cote d'Ivoire with around 100.

Senegal and Mohamed Salah and his Egypt teammates are distantly third in the 70s. Cameroon and Algeria, the current African champions, are even further behind in the 50s.

Still, Rohr believes that these other African countries have a better chance of making it to a World Cup quarterfinal than his wards.

"They have players playing in the best teams in Europe. We don't, unfortunately have these players," he told ESPN.

"Our players are playing in lower clubs. We don't have these players like Egypt, like Senegal, like Cote d'Ivoire who are playing in the biggest clubs. Our players are playing in clubs who are not the best ones.

"Only [Samuel] Chukwueze [won the Europa League with Villarreal]. All others are fighting to stay in the league or are fighting to be starting player.

"When you see the world champions, France, the players are playing for Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, PSG, Manchester United.

"When we have players in the biggest teams, then we can say we have chance to get to the semifinal of the World Cup."

Wilfred Ndidi is acknowledged as one of the world's top midfielders, and his uncompromising play provided the foundation for Leicester City's [eventually failed] push for a Champions League spot, and a successful FA Cup title.

The duo of Joe Aribo and Leon Balogun are Scottish champions, Zaidu Sanusi played up to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, and William Troost-Ekong helped Watford secure promotion to the Premier League.

They may not be playing for big teams, but does it make a difference that they play in the same league with these big teams and play against the league's top players?

"Yes, of course, fortunately," Rohr admitted. "But they have to struggle to stay in the [top] league. Which means that the level of the teams that they play on is not the same as the teams they play against.

"[But] we are happy about it to have some of them doing well. I think Onuachu, for instance, will have proposals from some bigger teams for the next season. Simy [Nwankwo]... I hope he will leave [relegated Crotone]. [Terem] Moffi too, I hope he will have a big club."

Defender Troost-Ekong, who left Udinese in Serie A to play in the English second tier with Watford, disagrees with his coach.

"We all want to play football in the top leagues," Troost-Ekong told ESPN. "I think Kelechi and Ndidi are probably the guys who are doing it most consistently, I would consider Leicester now to be a top six club in England.

"Victor Osimhen is doing it at Napoli, a Champions League team as well. So, everyone has their journey. And you know, all of these players, when the time is right to play in the top leagues, and also playing the top clubs, including myself, yeah, then the time is right, and will happen.

"I don't think there needs to be more pressure on that. And in the same way, I don't think that there's a lack of motivation, or I don't think there's any player that doesn't want to be there, or could do more.

"We are all doing our very best and we just have to respect everyone's journey and respect where one is at.

"And some of those things are not as easy as that because when the players will be playing in the top clubs, and then they're not getting any the game time, everyone will be saying that they should be playing in a smaller club and play more."

Big clubs or not, under Rohr the Super Eagles have worked their way through three qualification series, losing just once on their way to two Africa Cup of Nations tournaments and the World Cup, qualifying each time with at least a game to spare.

Rohr acknowledges that those accomplishments show that his team are better than the sum of their individual parts and is at least more optimistic about their chances of making it to Qatar.

The first of those World Cup qualifiers is scheduled for September after being delayed from June due to COVID, with Nigeria hosting Liberia, then traveling to Cape Verde.