ABUJA: With more than 45 years in the game both as a player and as a coach, Franco-German Gernot Rohr will be at the World Cup for the first time after he qualified Nigeria for the finals against the odds.
After coaching Niger, Gabon and Burkina Faso, Rohr took up a much more daunting job with the Super Eagles in August 2016.
This happened after the three-time African champions had failed to qualify for a second straight Africa Cup of Nations and had been drawn in a tough group along with reigning African champions Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia for a place in Russia.
Rohr had promised Nigeria World Cup qualification after he signed a two-year contract.
"I am enthusiastic to get to work. This is a big challenge because Nigeria have big players everywhere and have the ability to do well internationally," he declared.
A 2-1 win in Ndola, Zambia, in October 2016 set the tone for a successful qualifying campaign as the Eagles recorded crucial home wins over Algeria and Cameroon before wrapping up qualification with a late Alex Iwobi winner against the Zambians in front of a home crowd in October 2017.
Runaway group winners Nigeria were not troubled even after FIFA docked them three points for fielding the ineligible Shehu Abdullahi in a final qualifier in Algeria which finished in a 1-1 draw in November.
The highlight of Rohr's coaching career was leading Bordeaux to the final of the UEFA Cup in 1996, when they lost both legs to his former club Bayern Munich.
Rohr, now 64, restored self-belief, introduced several young players and brought tactical organisation for Nigeria to reach a sixth World Cup.
"He's a great and wonderful coach," said Leicester City midfielder Wilfred Ndidi.
"First thing (with him) is the solidarity of the group and that is really helping the team," he said.
"I can see that everybody is trying to bond, you don't just think about yourself, but the whole team. We are like a family."