Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr yesterday commended the patriotism level of his team captain, John Mikel Obi and insisted that the current travail of the midfielder with Chelsea FC is due to the participation at the last Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil.
Mikel, is yet to make any appearance even as a substitute for Chelsea in all competitions this season despite featuring fleetingly for the Stamford Bridge club in pre-season. The situation has allowed local pundits to question the coach’s judgement of making the player relevant in the national team inspite of array of young talents at his disposal.
At the pre-match media chart ahead of the big match against Algeria tomorrow in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Rohr explained that Mikel has failed to play competitively for Chelsea so far this season because the club’s manager, Antonio Conte “is punishing him” for representing Nigeria at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Mikel was Team Nigeria’s captain at the 2016 Olympics, impressing as the “Dream Team” won the country’s only medal – a Bronze – at the Games.
“I spoke about this with Mikel and the club’s technical director (Michael Emenalo). Mikel is training very well and he plays games in training with the big players at Chelsea.
“There is a reason why Mikel is not playing for Chelsea right now and that reason is because he played for Nigeria at the (2016) Olympics.
“I cannot punish a player who loves his country and shows that he loves the Green jersey,” Rohr remarked.
The coach confirmed that his captain will definitely start the match and his level of fitness will determine if he will play all through the 90 minutes.
“He (Mikel) is here with us and he is fit and I hope he can play for 90 minutes against Algeria but if it is not possible, we shall see.
“He is an influential player and I expect him to motivate others from the opening minute but what I cannot tell you is if he has the strength to play full time.
“If he is substituted, we have other players who can come in for us so it is not really a problem for us.
“He played a lot of games at the beginning of the season at the Olympics and has also played two games with us (Super Eagles) against Zambia and Tanzania.
“I have big confidence in him and if he says ‘it is okay’, then it is okay but when he says ‘it is not okay’ then it is not and I will listen to him,” Rohr explained.
In another development, the Algerian that arrived yesterday are insisting on taking a chance on Napoli defender Faouzi Ghoulam, who is nursing a groin injury, to play against Nigeria.
Left back Ghoulam has been treated by ultrasound and MRI and the Algeria medical staff led by Ali Yekdah now say he has shown remarkable improvement.
According to africanfootball.com, Algeria are now even more positive about the defender after he trained with the rest of the squad yesterday morning before they departed for Nigeria yesterday.
The FC Napoli defender is very crucial to the plans of coach Georges Leekens, who knows that the fast Nigeria attack led by the likes of Ahmed Musa, Moses Simon and Victor Moses could exploit his team’s fullback positions and so the need to line up an experienced player like Ghoulam.
Algerians came in chartered flight landed at the Uyo airport late evening and were received by top officials of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).
The Desert Foxes were led by long-serving FAF president Mohamed Raouraoua.
They are also booked into the Le Meridian, same abode of Super Eagles and will have a first feel of the pitch at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium by 5pm today.
HOW THEY STAND IN GRUOP B
Team P W D L GF GA GD Pts
Nigeria 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 3
Algeria 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
Cameroun1 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
Zambia 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0