Until his boys’ defeats to Uruguay and Spain at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup tournament in Brazil last month, Coach Stephen Keshi had not lost a competitive game since taking the saddle as Super Eagles’ Head Coach in November 2011.
The 52-year old started with a 0-0 draw against Botswana in an international friendly at the Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin City on November 12, 2011 and three days later, set his boys on rampage to defeat 2012 Cup of Nations-bound Zambia 2-0 at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium in another friendly. The Zambians eventually won that Africa Cup tournament staged in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
Keshi returns to the lush turf of the Ahmadu Bello Stadium on Saturday, to guide his much-loved home-based lads against their counterparts from Cote d’Ivoire.
It is on record that back then, when majority of Nigerians had no faith in the home-based professionals, Keshi gave them a level-playing turf in the senior team and gave them a sense of belonging.
They were right there in his camp and calculations from the beginning, with quality playing time in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying matches and several friendlies, and five of them eventually making the final cut for the Cup of Nations finals in South Africa.
One of those, a certain Sunday Mba, emerged the hero of the spectacular quarter win over Cote d’Ivoire in Rustenburg and scored the lone goal over Burkina Faso in Soccercity that handed Nigeria the coveted trophy for the first time in 19 years.
The home lads’ gutsy performances encouraged Keshi to take 14 of them
to the training camp in Germany mid-May, ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Kenya and Namibia and the FIFA Confederations Cup, with eight of them making the cut for the Confederations Cup showpiece in Brazil.
Come Saturday, the boys have the opportunity to further justify Keshi’s confidence in them as they seek to shoot past the Ivorians and get Nigeria into the African Nations Championship for the first time.
And with Nigeria having won all major football tournaments staged by South Africa since the end of the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals, there are many who believe that once the Eagles get past Cote d’Ivoire, they would go all the way at the 3rd African Nations Championship finals in South Africa in January 2014.
His unbeaten streak having been torn by Uruguay and Spain in Brazil, Keshi aims to start another winning streak at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium on Saturday.
– Sola Rogers (Twitter – @solarogers)
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