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Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr to call up Austria-based youngsters ahead of Afcon qualifiers

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After nearly a year without international football for Nigeria, coach Gernot Rohr and his wards return to the field again in October with friendly matches against Cote d'Ivoire and Tunisia.

Rohr has a clear idea of what he wants to accomplish with those two games, especially with Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers the month after, and very little game time to call upon thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Rohr told ESPN: "First [goal] is to renew our team spirit, to rebuild our good playing of offensive football like we did in the last games before the pandemic came, scoring a lot of goals.

"I am watching also for progress in the defensive work, not to get all the time a goal and then you have to run off the time to fight to win the game. We want to improve in our defensive work.

"There are some tactics also I want to see again. We played a different system in the second half in Lesotho. Do you remember we had the 3-5-2? We had also a 4-4-2 and we had this 4-2-3-1 sometimes.

"So, it is necessary to find quickly again, our organization."

As a result of this, Rohr said it would be difficult for new players to break into the starting team as he names his squad this week.

He added: "That is why it is good to have players in our list who are already here with us and it is not easy for the new ones immediately to come in the team where they never played before.

"But we have to check, we have to see to give them a chance in the training sessions and also, a match is going 90 minutes so we can make six changes in friendly matches."

Those new players will include CSKA's new star Chidera Ejuke and the Austria-based duo of former under 17 captain Samson Tijani and former Austria youth international Tobias Lawal.

The coach explained: "I invited two players from Austria. One of them you know him, Samson Tijani. He was the captain of our under 17 team that played the World Cup last year.

"He signed for Red Bull Salzburg, he is also midfielder 18 years old and he's on the loan to TSV Hartberg, a first division club. But I'm not afraid to invite him especially because he's in Austria already.

"Also, the goalkeeper, [20-year-old] Tobias Lawal. He's a young goalkeeper, playing in Linz. He was on the bench for the European games. They had very good European rally last year, they made it good competition. And he played already sometimes, he was already in Austria ['s side], under 20 but only a friendly."

In the end, Rohr's focus will be on the AFCON qualification games in November: "It is a test match, the two of them so the result is not the most important but it is the last opportunity to test before the important qualifiers start again in November.

"We want to win all the time and qualify like we did before so the last games we can see some young players, some new players."

When the latest FIFA's monthly rankings for national teams was released last week, it showed Nigeria at 29, three places above the 31 they had been stuck in since December 2019.

More to the point, it reflected an even more notable metric of the team's progression over the last few years than is immediately obvious. For the first time in seven years the Super Eagles are back on the right side of the world top 30.

The last time Nigeria sat this high on the rankings was May 2013, when they were in 28th position. Since that time, they have progressively regressed, tumbling as low as 70 in July 2016, a month before Rohr was hired.

When he took over as Nigeria coach in August 2016, the country had improved slightly to 67th in the world and a shocking, for them,16th in Africa, behind the likes of Guinea, Uganda, South Africa, Congo, Mali, Cape Verde, and Congo DR.

Since then, it has been slow, gradual progress leading to this point of once again breaking into the top 30. Rohr, under whose guidance this improvement has come, is pleased but unsatisfied.

"Of course, we are happy about it," he said. "It's a good progress, due to the good results and performances of the team. And yes, I think we can be a little bit proud of it, but we have to still work a lot to get better. We want to be better of course all the time."

That is typical of the German, always straddling that fine line between lowered expectations and striving for better.

He added: "When I arrived we were not number three (in Africa). We were much lower. So, it's good to see that we are in the right way.

"And when you see the age of our players you can believe that we still can be better and will progress. If everybody is working well and hard and there is a good spirit, we still can go higher. That's what we want to do."