Leon Balogun giving everything for Nigerian cause in World Cup qualifying

Leon Balogun was the villain of the piece as Nigeria slumped to a shock 1-0 defeat at home to Central African Republic last Thursday. Fortunately, however, the chance to make amends was just three days away, and the defender more than made up for his error that had proved so costly in Lagos.

Balogun had got into a muddle with his centre-back partner William Troost-Ekong in Lagos, allowing CAR forward Karl Namnganda to steal in between them and slip the ball past the despairing Francis Uzoho for a famous victory that led to an uproar in Nigeria, and seriously put head coach Gernot Rohr's job in jeopardy.

Fans and pundits alike asked questions again about whether Rohr had taken the Super Eagles as far as he could, but Balogun's history with the team meant the defender did not suffer as harsh a barracking as might have been the case in previous iterations of the Eagles.

Still the player -- and his teammates -- were stung by the result against a team ranked No. 124 in the world, and which had never before won a qualifier away from home. And that sparked a determination to make amends for the defeat.

Balogun more than made up for his error three days later at Stade Omnisport in Yaoundé, Cameroon. He stayed upfront after a set piece, when the CAR defence failed to clear its lines properly; and as the ball returned into the box, he slipped in behind at the far post to score the opening goal that calmed Super Eagles nerves and set them on the path to victory.

"You've seen me play for a few years now," Balogun told ESPN. "And you know that when I step onto the pitch I always give 100% and I am always passionate.

"Whether I am having a good performance or a bad performance, you can never actually criticize me for not trying. That is what I always give, that is the least I can do."

That victory was assured when Troost-Ekong, the other centre-back involved in the mix-up that led to the goal in Lagos, cantered forward to deliver a delicious low cross that Victor Osimhen lashed in for the second goal in Nigeria's 2-0 victory.

The result was sorely needed; with Cape Verde claiming two victories over Liberia, anything other than a win for the Super Eagles in Cameroon would have put Nigeria's hopes of getting through to the playoff phase of World Cup qualifying in serious peril.

Nigeria have missed just one edition since qualifying for their first World Cup in 1994 -- the 2006 tournament in Germany -- and many fans are still traumatized by that experience. Balogun told ESPN that the emotions of players were amplified.

"If it is important for you as a fan who is not on the pitch, but who is dreaming of seeing us play there, what do you think it means for us who are involved on the pitch," Balogun said.

"You get the chance to play and it gets stolen away from you. So you can imagine your pain [as a fan] is the pain we feel, but our pain is your pain times a hundred probably.

"You are probably still going to get opportunities to go to the World Cup but we are going to be sidelined and watch it on TV, and that's what hurts. So we understand [what it means]."

Rohr was pleased about the result in Yaoundé but said the Super Eagles could have scored four goals.

"It was a good reaction from my team," Rohr told ESPN.

"We lost the other day, very unlucky. The last minute, so everybody wanted to take revenge. They did it very well; even we could score a third or fourth goal."

Nigeria's performance was a marked improvement on that in Lagos, where the team -- without all three regular starting midfielders Wilfred Ndidi, Peter Etebo and Alex Iwobi -- was so lethargic and ponderous that Rohr switched systems in the return fixture, going to the 3-5-2 that had served him very well in tight spots previously.

"We changed the system," Rohr said . "We played only three in the back. This helped us and also the leadership of Ahmed Musa to win this game.

"It is not easy to beat the Central African Republic. We saw it. They made a lot of fouls, a lot. But fortunately, we don't have any big issue. And now we can prepare for the next games in November. And I hope that everything will be fine on the end of the day."

That day is still some way off, and Rohr's job is still very much far from safe until the ticket is in the bag. But as long as he can count on the fierce determination of the likes of Balogun, he may yet extend further his record as the longest-serving coach of Nigeria's national team.