Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr furious over Premier League's 'red zone' decision

Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr has essentially been forced to pick two squads for two games within days of each other, after the Premier League banned players from going to 'red zone' coronavirus countries for their World Cup qualifiers. JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images

Nigeria men's national team coach Gernot Rohr says the decision of the English Premier League to restrict players from traveling to certain "red zone" countries over COVID-19 fears will tarnish the integrity of the World Cup qualifiers.

Rohr named his squad for Nigeria's opening two World Cup qualifiers against Liberia and Cape Verde this week, but was forced to name an additional six players as back up for the second game.

Eight of the players in the squad play in England and Scotland, and will be out of the second game at Cape Verde, a country that falls under the UK's "red zone" COVID infection classification.

The Super Eagles mentor told ESPN the decision was tough to swallow, especially after the concessions that were made during the Euros.

"It is difficult to understand why England is giving exception to the Euro but not for the other World Cup games," he said.

"They could do everything for the Euro where England participated but nothing for the World Cup players. It is very important for each country who has ambitions to qualify and this kind of decision will tarnish the competition."

For the Super Eagles, this means William Troost-Ekong, Leon Balogun, Kelechi Iheanacho, Wilfred Ndidi, Alex Iwobi, Frank Onyeka, Joe Aribo, and Oghenekaro Etebo will all not be available for the trip away to Cape Verde.

That is one hundred percent of Nigeria's starting midfield, fifty percent of the starting back four, and a third of his front three.

Rohr will essentially be preparing for the second game with almost an entirely different team from the one that will play against Liberia.

He added: "We are preparing the team as best as possible but we will not have these players who are some of our best players.

"All our midfielders will not be there. Our central defense also will not be there and our good striker Kelechi will also not be there. So it will not be easy against a very difficult team like Cape Verde."

The Premier League announced that they "reluctantly but unanimously" acted because players would be required to quarantine in hotels for 10 days upon their return, forcing them to miss at least two league games.

This despite FIFA scrapping a temporary law brought in during the pandemic, which allowed clubs to refuse to release players for games if they have to quarantine for more than five days on their return from international duty.

According to the Premier League statement, "Not only would players' welfare and fitness be significantly impacted, but they would also be unavailable to prepare for, and play in, two Premier League match rounds, a UEFA club competition matchday and the third round of the EFL Cup.

"This period takes into consideration 10 days of hotel quarantine on return to England but does not include any additional time that would be required for players to regain match fitness."

To make up for the absentees, Rohr has called up seven others as back up including FC Lorient's Terem Moffi, CSSKA Moscow's Chidera Ejuke and the Italy-based duo of Tyronne Ebuehi and Kingsley Michael.

With the news only coming after the German had sent in his original squad of 23 to the NFF, he says it was tough coming up with the additional names.

The German said: "It is a big challenge for us to replace nine players from our first list and to find in a few days only the players who can, with a good level, replace them.

"Fortunately, we have a scouting team and we have other players in the focus since a long time so we could invite six players to replace our eight or nine players from the UK.

"So they will be here for one game and then we have to change completely the team. But we have to handle and manage the situation, that is why we are all the time positive about the possibility to see some new players like Innocent, like Kingsley Michael, like Ejuke."

For the NFF, the situation and its timing also presents a significant financial headache, with the federation already groaning under serious budgetary constraints, despite getting some assistance from the government of Lagos State.

"We budgeted for 23 players," an NFF source told ESPN. "Unfortunately, despite these new and unforeseen circumstances, we cannot have access any more funds so we will have to make do in whatever way we can."

Meanwhile, in another administrative disappointment, CAF have approved 5000 spectators at the Teslim Balogun Stadium for the game on September 3, way down from the 12 000 requested by the NFF.

CAF wrote in the letter signed by Raul Chipenda, Development Director: "As it is known, we would like to reiterate that the CAF and FIFA covid-19 match protocols clearly state that all matches must be played behind closed doors.

"Nonetheless, CAF analysed and assessed your request from a medical, stadium requirements compliance, and safety & security perspective in your venue. Accordingly, a decision has been taken to exceptionally allow the presence of 5,000 spectators in the aforementioned match."

Nigeria World Cup qualifiers squad:

Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (APOEL Nicosia, Cyprus); Daniel Akpeyi (Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa); Maduka Okoye (Sparta Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

Defenders: Chidozie Awaziem (FC Boavista, Portugal); Kenneth Omeruo (CD Leganes, Spain); Leon Balogun (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); William Ekong (Watford FC, England); Olaoluwa Aina (Torino FC, Italy); Jamilu Collins (SC Padeborn 07, Germany); Abdullahi Shehu (AC Omonia, Cyprus); Zaidu Sanusi (FC Porto, Portugal); Kevin Akpoguma (TSG Hoffenheim, Germany)

Midfielders: Oghenekaro Etebo (Watford FC, England); Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Frank Onyeka (Brentford FC, England); Joseph Ayodele-Aribo (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland)

Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Fatih Karagumruk, Turkey); Alex Iwobi (Everton FC, England); Samuel Kalu (FC Bordeaux, France); Victor Osimhen (Napoli FC, Italy); Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England); Moses Simon (FC Nantes, France); Paul Onuachu (KRC Genk, Belgium)

REPLACEMENTS: Terem Moffi (FC Lorient, France); Henry Onyekuru (Olympiacos FC, Greece); Chidera Ejuke (CSKA Moscow, Russia); Innocent Bonke (Malmo FF, Sweden); Valentine Ozornwafor (Sporting Charleroi, Belgium); Tyronne Ebuehi (Venezia FC, Italy); Kingsley Michael (Bologna FC, Italy)