LOOKED down upon, even by his fellow countrymen, new African football champions Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi is living the dream.
WELLINGTON TONI IN JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
On Sunday night, in a packed National Stadium in Johannesburg, SA, Keshi saw his young side beat Burkina Faso 1-0 via a Sunday Mba goal in the 40th minute, to lift only their third continental trophy after a 19-year wait. He took a 23-member squad with just six players having previous Afcon experience and was bold enough to leave out West Brom star Peter Odemwinge and Levante striker Obafemi Martins.
He put his trust in youngsters, benched veteran captain Joseph Yobo and thrust Mba, Ahmed Musa, Efe Ambrose, Brown Ideye, Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike into the fore. The presence of Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel and goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama provided experience and guidance.
And yet the coach, known as the Big Boss, does not want to take the credit.
“It’s the players who did all the work. It is their trophy and I’m so happy for them. I have always believed in them,” he said. So sweet for Keshi is the fact that he has done it twice — first as a player in 1994, the year he also played in the World Cup in the United States — and now as a coach. He becomes Nigeria’s most successful local coach and critics have been put to shame.
With this victory, Keshi has now equalled the record set by Egypt’s Mahmoud El-Gohari as the only (living) player to have won the Afcon both as a player (1994) and as a coach (2013). The late El-Gohari won the Afcon as a player in 1959, finishing as the top scorer in that year’s edition with three goals — all of which came in a game against Ethiopia. He later coached Egypt to victory at Burkina Faso in 1998, with the Pharaoh’s defeating then defending champions South Africa in the final by two goals scored by Ahmed Hassan and Tarek Mustafa.
Former captain Nwankwo Kanu said to Kick Off after the match: “I don’t think they realise what they have just done.
“It will take a few years for them to understand what this achievement means not just to them, but to the country, but I am really proud of them.”
“They were not the team with the biggest stars, but they played as a team, they fought for each other, believed in each other, and they have now received their reward.”
The victorious Super Eagles will arrive in Abuja at 1pm today aboard a special flight provided by the country’s largest airline, Arik Air. According to ThisDay, in keeping with the mood of the occasion, Arik Air will be using one of its flagship planes, the Airbus A340-500, to fly the players and officials in comfort for six hours to the country’s capital, Abuja.
All things being equal, the 237-seater plane will leave Johannesburg’s Oliver Tambo International Airport at 9am South African time (8am Nig time) and is expected to touch down at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport at about 1pm. President Goodluck Jonathan, whose office issued a statement on the team’s victory, will meet the team at the airport.
“President Jonathan thanks coach Stephen Keshi and all members of the team who have worked very hard . . . to make Nigeria the proud champions of Africa once again after 19 years of setbacks in the competition,” his office said in a statement.
“The President also believes that having conquered Africa, the new Super Eagles can go on to achieve even greater glory at the World Cup in Brazil next year,” it added.