Nigeria's poor performances have put Gernot Rohr's job on the line

Nigeria stumble to 2 draws vs. Sierra Leone: What happened? (1:37)

Ed Dove and Colin Udoh try to make sense of Nigeria's surprising draws vs. Sierra Leone in AFCON qualifying. (1:37)

A mere haul of two points out of an expected six from back-to-back games against Sierra Leone have left Gernot Rohr's job as Nigeria coach hanging in the balance.

Within hours of the second leg in Freetown, Nigeria Sports Minister Sunday Dare, whose office oversees Rohr's employers, the Nigeria Football Federation, posted an ominous tweet that doesn't bode well for the German.

"The performance of the Super Eagles from their last two matches calls to question the suitability and competences of Technical Adviser, Rohr. Nigerian football deserves better. The needful will be done. Apologies to all football lovers."

It came as no surprise.

Almost as soon as the final whistle went in that game against Sierra Leone in Benin, Rohr's future as Nigeria coach was already up for debate.

His Super Eagles had raced to a commanding 4-0 lead in the opening half hour of the first Africa Cup of Nations qualifier, and looked like running riot all over the then hapless Leone Stars.

But they imploded in the second half, allowing the visitors to claw their way back to an unbelievable 4-4 draw. It was a result that left fans, media and NFF officials numb.

Even Rohr himself admitted that it was a vexing situation to be in.

"If they (fans) say they are vexed about the match and the results, they are right," Rohr said the day after the game.

"We cannot accept such a result when you lead 4-0 and you lead 4-1 at halftime. What happened in the second half?"

He blamed the collapse on the poor preparations leading up to the game. According to Rohr, late player arrivals did not allow enough time for the team to prepare properly, both on a mental and physical level.

He said: "For me the facts are that we had a very bad preparation. The players arrived very late, even the day before the match, we had only one quality training together.

"Physically and mentally they lost energy in the second half. And the collapse came. And then came this injury to our main striker.

"I think mentally, especially our young players are not strong enough for these kind of games. But I think at half-time the players believed it was finished."

Rohr was not alone in pointing to poor preparation. Prior to the game, Philip Shuaibu, the deputy governor of Edo State, where the game was played, came to train WITH the team. Both NFF President Amaju Pinnick and Sports Minister Dare did the same.

Fans were not amused and took to Twitter to voice their displeasure, stating that not only would their presence be distracting for the team, but it also devalued the national team.

Which is not to say that Rohr escaped criticism for allowing the VIPs to train with his team either, and as his squad departed to Sierra Leone for the return leg, sources at the NFF told ESPN that a loss could well spell the end of his time with the Super Eagles.


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It was something the German himself seemed to acknowledge, as he told ESPN his team would be going for a win, saying: "I am sure they will react because I know my team, I know what they can do. They showed it in the first half. If they can maintain it in the second half, we can do it."

They could not do it. They did show some spark, but were hampered by an eyesore of a pitch and failed to win.

Rohr's team did not lose, although they did come close to winning. Kelechi Iheanacho saw his headed goal scratched for an unclear offside, and the Leicester man was also denied what looked like a stone-cold penalty when he was awkwardly clattered into by the goalkeeper.

But the play was dire, on a field that was more potato patch than football pitch, and the hosts also had one late chance to nick a late win.

That grim play, and Rohr's selection decisions, cemented the lack of confidence in him.

In particular, his decision to play Kevin Akpoguma, who is unfamiliar with the vagaries of African football, on a difficult ground and dropping left back Zaidu Sanusi, who has more familiarity with bad patches than Ola Aina.

Plus, on a day when route one football could have been more effective, leaving Paul Onuachu on the bench for all 90 minutes was arguably a mistake.

Nigeria legend Segun Odegbami, a known critic of the German, was withering.

"My belief is that anybody who will coach the Super Eagles now and make us a world class team capable of winning the World Cup must be a world class coach," he told ESPN.

"Rohr definitely cannot deliver that. He is not the world class coach that we are looking for, without question. We have seen him work, for four years now and what we saw at two critical moments, in Russia and in Egypt convinced me that he is not the one to lead Nigeria to El Dorado."

But Pinnick says there is no need to panic. At least not yet.

"It was a good game," he told the media. "It was not the result we expected considering the very horrible turf and the kind of pitches our players play on.

"You don't just wake up and say you want to fire a coach, you don't just do that. Even though I have my own reservations about the man."

Part of the reason for this controlled reaction could be the severance pay that Rohr -- who only signed a contract extension in May -- would be entitled to if he was fired before he failed to meet targets set for him.

These targets, sources tell ESPN, include matching or bettering Nigeria's performance at the Afcon in 2019 and World Cup in 2018.

This means he would need to fail to reach the semifinals of the tournament in Cameroon for the NFF to fire him without incurring stiff financial penalties. Failure to qualify for the Afcon would meet the baseline, but there is no danger of that, with Nigeria just two points away from going to Cameroon.

Pinnick's next words, not exactly a ringing endorsement of the coach, seemed to reflect that reality.

"It's not that we are excited, but we believe it can be better and these are very critical times for us to start wanting to change coaches unless there are some issues of insubordination attributed to the coach," he added.

Insubordination could be a back door to achieve the same objective and a source who was in Sierra Leone told ESPN that there had been issues between the coach and certain ranking officials of the federation in Freetown.

Pinnick said the NFF's Technical Committee was investigating: "We still need to carry out further investigations. If it is established that there was any gross insubordination, then we can do what we need to do to, Nigerians don't need to tell us.

"If we find out that the violation was very gross, and is not acceptable then that is his fate. But if it's not gross, then we will look at it and take our next action, but I can tell you sacking of the coach at the moment is out of it."

None of this will be very reassuring for Rohr.

There are four months until the next round of international matches -- plenty of time to shift Rohr and hire a replacement. Sources tell ESPN that former international Emmanuel Amunike -- who was highly touted at the height of Rohr's contract negotiation hold-up -- could be in line as a replacement.

Argentinian Hector Cuper is also believed to be in consideration, according to other sources.