Rohr challenges Balogun and Aribo to replicate Rangers form for Nigeria

Nigeria boss Gernot Rohr is delighted to see his Rangers Super Eagles Joe Aribo and Leon Balogun flying high at Ibrox and hopes it is a springboard to international stardom.

Former Charlton man Aribo and Balogun have been key figures for Steven Gerrard this season and, after helping them reach the Europa League last-16, can put them within touching distance of an historic title when they face Livingston tonight.

Balogun stepped into the right back role after skipper James Tavernier was crocked in the first leg win over Royal Antwerp and impressed in the victory over Dundee United a few days later.

But he was taken off at half-time of the return clash with the Belgians with Gerrard admitting afterwards he picked up a niggle with replacement Nathan Patterson making an instant impact with his goal.

The former Wigan man has played as a central defender during his time at Gers but has shown his versatility and Rohr says he won’t be fazed by filling Tavernier’s boots having often been deployed there for Nigeria and early in his career in Germany.

That is when the Super Eagles boss first watched him and the veteran boss was delighted when Balogun made the move to Rangers at the start of the season in an emergency move following Niko Katic’s long term injury.

It has proved to be a shrewd acquisition with the 31-year-old playing in high profile European and domestic fixtures with Gerrard switching between the 32-year-old and Filip Helander.

Rohr was already well aware of Berlin-born Balogun, who has a German mother and Nigerian father, because of his time in Germany with Hannover 96, Werder Bremen, Fortuna Dusseldorf, Darmstadt 98 and Mainz 05.

Balogun made his international debut two years before Rohr took over Nigeria in 2014 but the Gers stopper played every minute of their three World Cup games under him at Russia 2018.

Rohr then handed Aribo his debut shortly after he moved to Ibrox and the midfielder made a scoring start to his Nigeria career with a goal in a friendly draw against Ukraine.

The pair could have written their names into Gers folklore by the time they hook up for international duty again later this month for the Africa Cup of Nations qualifying double header against Benin and Lesotho.

And Rohr told Daii Record Sport: “It would be great for our players – Balogun and Aribo – if Rangers won the title.

“We have been watching Rangers a lot and scouting all their games and there’s also Calvin Bassey and Nnamdi Ofoborh who is an Under-20 international who both have Nigerian roots so the challenge is there for them to join them.

“It is great that they are getting so much exposure and success at a club the size of Rangers and, as well as domestically, they have played at a very high level in Europe.

“I played a friendly in Glasgow with Bordeaux and it was a full house – even for a friendly game – so I have good memories and I’m delighted they are getting to experience that, although Leon hasn’t yet had the chance to play in front of the fans.

“I have known Balogun for a very long time. He has a German mentality and has good speed which is very important for a central defender or full back as he can play both positions.

“There is no difference for Leon Balogun playing at right back for Rangers just now because he’s played there before, for Nigeria and in Germany sometimes.

“He’s quick and intelligent and can change his position very quickly. For me, he’s strong enough to play either position. In the 2018 World Cup he played at the right of a three-man central defence so not quite a right back.

“I watched him playing in Germany for Mainz before I joined the Nigerian national team so I knew all about the boy. He was born in Germany and speaks German so we have a good relationship.

“Leon has a very good character and self confidence and I was happy when he moved to Glasgow Rangers because he didn’t play enough in England.

“Leon is one of the leaders in my group and I’m happy he has had success in European competition with Rangers. He is also one of my vice captains, we have a young team in Nigeria and he is an experienced player which is vital.”

Balogun previously revealed that he has been nominated as Nigeria’s unofficial squad spokesman with the fact he can speak German meaning he is the natural choice.

And he isn’t scared to speak up and challenge former Bordeaux boss Rohr if he feels something isn’t right. Balogun said: “I do challenge the coach sometimes, it helps that we both speak German.

“Sometimes, when the discussions are heated, the other players will say ‘this Balogun is crazy oh’, but it’s all for the good of the team and constructive.

“Other times players like Odion Ighalo might come to me and say ‘Balogun go and talk to your German father now’ when the players want to change or to try something.”

Aribo, eight years Balogun’s junior, has been capped six times and Rohr said: “I’m very satisfied with Leon and Joe and particularly with the attitude of them both.

“Since I invited Joe Aribo to the squad we have had only good performances. He was, for us, an important player in the midfield with his left foot, mobility, commitment and fantastic mentality.

“He can play as a defensive or offensive midfielder. Joe is good at pressing and immediately struck up a wonderful relationship with Alex Iwobi. “

“Joe scored in his first game for Nigeria against Ukraine in September 2019 and was one of the best players so we’re happy to see him in full flow and fitness for Rangers.”

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