By Ebenezer Bajela.
Nigerian striker Odion Ighalo says the decision by the Nigeria Football Federation to sack Gernot Rohr cost the country the 2022 World Cup ticket.
Ighalo stated this during an interview with OmaSportsTV.
Though Rohr guided the Eagles to the playoff round, the Franco-German tactician was sacked December 2021 following a series of underwhelming performances by his team.
The three-time African champions wobbled through the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifiers, losing at home to Central African Republic and forced to a draw in Lagos by Cape Verde.
Former defender, Austin Eguavoen, took charge of the Eagles in an interim capacity and the team eventually failed to qualify for the biggest football showpiece in the world in the Middle East, after losing on aggregate to eternal rivals Ghana.
While attention have now shifted from the Mundial and focused on club action, the Al Hilal forward said Nigeria would have qualified for the World Cup had Rohr remained in charge of the team.
“Rohr would have qualified Nigeria for the World Cup, and it was a disastrous decision to sack him the time they did,” Ighalo said.
“People say he is old but he gets the job done and even for the World Cup in Russia, we qualified with two games to play.”
Ighalo also opened up on how he was dropped in controversial circumstances two hours before the Eagles’ crucial qualifier against Ghana in Abuja.
“There is so much going on in the Super Eagles. I am a guy who does not talk much, and I don’t create problems. I’m on my lane, and that’s why I’m in Saudi Arabia; I do my thing and live my life. I don’t want issues.
“That game against Ghana, me and Victor (Osimhen) were supposed to start, but they told me two hours before the game that I was not going to start. We were having lunch, and they had to call me out that we want to do this and that. Even the coach (Eguavoen) did not call me, it was Joseph Yobo that called me to tell me.
“I said ‘no problem. Senior man, no problem, he is the coach, my prayer is that whatever the formation is, we win the game.’
“After the game, many of the young guys were crying and I just had to console them. Sadiq Umar and Samuel Chukwueze were crying in the dressing room and I felt bad for them because I’ve been to the World Cup and I know it is every player’s dream to go to the World Cup. I just felt sorry for the young lads because some of them may not have this opportunity again because that game against Ghana was a big chance and we blew it. I have never spoken about this until now.”
On how he felt being left on the bench, he said, “I didn’t feel disrespected being left on the bench against Ghana but in a way, I felt bad because we didn’t qualify.”
On his return to the squad after retirement, Ighalo added, “It was difficult to rescind my decision and return to the national after I stopped for two years. Gernot Rohr was constantly messaging me and even Amaju (Pinnick),” he said.
“I knew how people were threatening me after the World Cup in Russia and I even had to close my comment section, but Rohr was there for me and I felt now he needed me and I should be there for him, but things didn’t go as planned.”