Nigeria trainer Gernot Rohr is confident the Super Eagles will soar at the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 and justify huge expectations as one of the continent's tope teams.
With a run of impressive results, he qualified Nigeria for their sixth World Cup in Russia following the USA'94 debut along with France '98; Korea/Japan 2002; South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014.
This term the Super Eagles are pooled against Croatia, Iceland and Argentina in what is widely regarded as tough grouped since the West Africans are the least ranked despite their pedigree.
Incidentally, the Super Eagles have only twice failed to get to progress beyond the World Cup preliminary stage when they were drawn in the same group with Argentina in 2002 and 2010.
Yet two days to his 65th anniversary, Rohr will lead Nigeria against Argentina on June 28 at Saint Petersburg in their last Group D game at Russia 2018 after taking on Croatia and Iceland respectively.
Born 28th June 1953 in Germany, Rohr featured for top Bundesliga side, Bayern Munich and French side, Bordeaux before retiring to coaching. After handling clubs in France, Switzerland and Tunisia, he managed the national teams of Gabon, Niger and Burkina Faso before been appointed Super Eagles' manager in August 2016.
Speaking with CAFOnline.com, the self-styled Franco-German believes the West Africans can surpass their Second Round benchmark at the FIFA World Cup, adding the current squad is hungry and determined to surpass their illustrious predecessors.
Below are excerpts from the interview with CAFOnline.com
Russia 2018 will be the first time you are taking a team to the World Cup, how happy are you with this achievement?
I am happy and so privileged to have finally achieved this target of leading a team to the World Cup. Every coach dreams of being a part of the biggest football fiesta in the world. I have had big experiences with some clubs in the major European club competitions but the World Cup is very special.
It will be Nigeria's sixth World Cup appearance at Russia 2018, how far can the team know well the Super Eagles have not previously gone beyond the Second Round?
Our plan and preparation is to get beyond our group. We have at least 3 games to play at the World Cup. We want to give our best in these games so that we can stay in the competition and then have more games to play.
How easy was it for you to pick your World Cup squad?
It is always a big challenge to pick some players from a pool of talents especially for a big football country like Nigeria. It is a good problem for coaches to do this sometimes. For me, I know these players, young, talented, disciplined, hungry and very committed players. We worked together to pick the World Cup ticket from a very tough qualifying group so I can trust them to do it again at a bigger stage like the World Cup.
The Super Eagles is short on experience in the goalkeeping department, what makes your choice of goalkeepers exceptional?
The goalkeeping position in a team is a very important one. We have confidence in the goalkeepers we have in the team right now. Our goalkeeper coaches Alloy Agu and Enrico Pionetti have also been working extra hard with these goalkeepers to help get them to the level we desire and the response has been encouraging. We should all get behind these goalkeepers, support and encourage them so they can be motivated and be able to give their best for the country when called upon.
What is your honest assessment of the Super Eagles in Group D against Croatia, Iceland and Argentina?
My honest assessment is that this is a very tough group, maybe the toughest at the World Cup. We are not the favourites to make it out of this group because we are the least ranked team here. However, we are confident, hungry and very determined to fight to qualify from this group. Remember we were not the favourites in our World Cup qualifying group in Africa but we made it, so we can do it again.
Beating Argentina 4-2 in an international friendly last year has exposed the potentialities of your team, how are you dealing with the huge expectations from the fans?
Beating Argentina was good for our confidence but do not forget it was just a friendly. We should expect a tougher, more difficult match at the World Cup. We respect them but we will not be afraid of them. Our fans believe in us and have very high expectations but we must let them know that the World Cup is a very tough tournament. We must remain humble, stay hungry and committed. We must take things step by step, one game at a time.
Playing against Argentina at the World Cup brings to mind Lionel Messi, how are you going to deal with that?
Lionel Messi is the best player in the world and he was not there when we played them in Krasnodar last November. At the World Cup, we will not be playing against Messi alone; we will be playing the entire Argentina team. We are not playing against one player; we will be facing 11 players. So we have to prepare very hard to stop this great team with so many great players.
How do you rate the chances of the four other African teams (Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Senegal) in Russia?
I believe that the African teams have the capability to do well at the World Cup. African football has improved greatly and African players are now at a high level like their European and South American counterparts. I hope this is reflected in how the African teams play in Russia.
Which country will win the World Cup at Russia 2018; and who would be the star of the tournament?
The favourites at every World Cup are Brazil, Germany, Argentina together with Spain, France. These teams have big players with huge experience, winning mentality and quality. Talking about the stars of the tournament, I hope some of the young players in my team become the stars of this World Cup and my team also shines like a million stars at the tournament.
ROHR SCORECARD WITH NIGERIA
1:2-09- 2016:Nigeria1 Tanzania 0 2017 AFCONQ-Uyo (K. Iheanacho)
2: 9-10-2016 Zambia 1 Nigeria 2 2018 WCQ-Ndola (K. Iheanacho; A. Iwobi)
3:12-11 2016: Nigeria 3 Algeria 1 2018 WCQ-Uyo (V. Moses (2); O.Mikel)
4:23-03-2017: Senegal 1 Nigeria1 Friendly-London (K. Iheanacho)
5:26-05-2017: Corsica 1 Nigeria 1 Friendly-Ajaccio (K. Iheanacho)
6:01-06-2017: Nigeria 3-0 Togo Friendly-Paris (A. Musa, K. Iheanacho)
7:10-06-2017: Nigeria 0 South Africa2 AFCON-Uyo
8: 1-09-201: Nigeria 4 Cameroon 0 WCQ-Uyo (O.Ighalo; O.Mikel; V.Moses; K. Iheanacho)
9: 04-09-2017:Cameroon1 Nigeria 1 WCQ-Yaounde (M.Simon)
10: 07-10-2017:Nigeria1 Zambia 0 WCQ-Uyo (A.Iwobi)
11: 11-11-2017: Algeria 1Nigeria 1 WCQ-Constantine (J.Ogu)
12: 14-11-2017: Argentina 2 Nigeria4 Friendly-Krasnodar (K. Iheanacho; A. Iwobi (2); B.Idowu)
13: 23-03-2018: Poland 1 Nigeria0 Friendly-Wroclaw (V. Moses)
14: 27-03-2018: Nigeria 0 Serbia2 Friendly-London
15: 28-05-2018: Nigeria 1 Congo DR1 Friendly-Uyo William Ekong-Troost
Source: Confederation Africaine de Football (CAF)