Monday, February 11, 2013


In a pulsating final played on Sunday, February 10, Stephen Keshi tutored Super Eagles defeated the Stallions of Burkina Faso 1-0 to win the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa

Sunday Mba’s lone spectacular strike in the 40th minute was enough to win Nigeria its third Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title in the 2013 final against the Stallions of Burkina Faso played on Sunday, February 10, at the Soccer City, Johannesburg.

Mba, a player who plies his trade in the Nigeria Premier League, wore jersey number 19, and more interestingly ended the country’s 19-year wait for AFCON title. Nigeria last won the AFCON title on home soil in 1980 and 1994 in Tunisia. Against the odds, Coach Stephen Keshi also made history as he became the first Nigerian coach to lead the Super Eagles to the title. He also becomes the second man to win it both as a player and a coach, the first being the late Mahmoud El Gohary who led Egypt to the AFCON title in 1998.

The match kicked off at a frenetic pace with nerves showing on both sides as they battled for supremacy in possession and play. Although the Eagles looked the more settled as the first half progressed, they failed to capitalize on their dominant possession. The absence of striker Emmanuel Emenike due to injury was glaring as the Eagles were unable to convert the numerous chances they created, with returnee striker IK Uche and Brown Ideye, failing to make any visible impact. This was until the 40th minute when Mba struck a sweet volley into the far corner of the post from inside the Burkinabe box. Mba’s goal came from a determined run by the Warri Wolves/Enugu Rangers player after Victor Moses and Brown Ideye had failed to capitalise on gilt edged chances seconds earlier.

The second half continued like the first, with both teams trying to grab the match by the scruff of the neck at the midfield. Although the Stallions seem to have gained confidence from their bright start at the second, they were not able to create clear cut chances, like the Eagles. The efforts of their star players; Jonathan Pitroipa, whose unjust red card in the semi-final against Ghana was reversed and Aristides Bance were neutralized by the Eagles’ defence, which put up an excellent shift throughout the match. Wilfried Sanou almost snatched a late equaliser for Burkina Faso, but Vincent Enyeama’s reflexes saved the day for Keshi and the Eagles. Ahmed Musa could have sealed the match with a second goal but fell embarrassingly inside the Burkina box after being put through on goal. The Eagles held on for the four minutes of added time to be crowned champions of Africa in the 2013 final watched by 85,000 fans.

“I am overjoyed at the stunning victory of the Super Eagles which has seen Nigeria emerge as the champions of the African Cup of Nations, 2013. Well done Patriots, you have done Nigeria proud. 2013 is obviously the year of Nigeria. We have emerged as a beacon of hope on the African continent by proving to Africa and the world that a strong Nigerian team put together and trained by a Nigerian coach can stand the test of time and successfully rise to the challenge of a most formidable opponent. The Nigerian spirit stands strong and steady as we march to the destination of greatness. I doff my fedora hat to this great squad that has brought laughter and happiness to our homes. Nigerians are grateful. We thank God. We thank you,” said President Goodluck Jonathan, in his congratulatory message to the team, who are billed to be hosted to a grand reception in Abuja on Tuesday, February 12.

With this victory, Nigeria would now represent Africa at the FIFA Confederations Cup slated for June in Brazil, where they would play against European and World champions Spain, Uruguay and Tahiti. Brazil, Japan, Mexico and Italy make the other group.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Stephen Keshi and the Super Eagles: On the Cusp of Greatness

So far, he has succeeded where others failed. And if he gets luckier, the Super Eagles coach would write his name in gold in South Africa 2013
By Arukaino Umukoro

Even the best local pundits did not believe Stephen Keshi, coach of the Super Eagles, would get this far. After all, the last set, the much praised golden generation, which won the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Tunisia 1994, took five years to build. In contrast, Keshi’s Eagles had roughly five to six weeks. Also, the fact that notable names such as Osaze Odemwingie, Obafemi Martins, Shola Ameobi, Danny Shittu, Obinna Nsofor, Taye Taiwo et al did not make the final cut gave reasons for apprehension among Eagles’ faithful and neutrals.
But the coach had always been full of confidence in his Eagles’ project. “I have the frame of the team I want and I believe that the squad we have selected for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations is good enough. What we need is chemistry. Once we have that, we’ll be okay going forward and all the way,” he said on the eve of the competition.
Fast forward three weeks after. Even the most pessimistic football loving Nigerian has been transformed into a true believer. National faith in Keshi has hit the rooftops as many now feel that Afcon 2013 might just be the making of the next golden generation of the Super Eagles.
The good thing about this is that Keshi, as well as his assistant Daniel Amokachi, was a member and captain of the last golden generation - the 1994 Eagles team. That team, bleeding with class everywhere, also went on to dazzle the world at the FIFA World Cup USA 1994, where they got to the second round.
Now the captain has become the field marshal, poised to conquer the continent with his glory chasing soldiers. The 1994 set was the standard which others after them have failed to meet. As it stands now, Keshi’s team is in pole position to equal it and probably raise it further. He is the second Nigerian coach, after Adegboye Onigbinde in 1984, to reach an Afcon final. Interestingly, Keshi was also assistant to Jo Bonfrere when the Eagles reached the 2000 final in Lagos, where they lost to Cameroon on penalty kicks. Besides, he is the third player from that 1994 golden generation to become coach (alongside Austin Eguavoen and Samson Siasia). This means that no matter what happens in Sunday’s final, it would be recorded that Keshi succeeded where others failed.
All things being equal, he looks good to become the first ever to win it. And if he gets lucky, again, he would also make history as the second man to win it both as a player and a coach, the first being Mahmoud El Gohary who led Egypt to the Afcon title in 1998.
While the final against Burkina Faso would be a tricky tie, these new-look Super Eagles smell the scent of victory like blood to a vampire. Only the resurgent Stallions, whose objective before the tournament was to win a game at least, could stop them from flying.
If experience counts also, Keshi has some on his side. First he took an unfancied Togo team to the 2006 Fifa World Cup for the first time in their history. Then, he guided Mali to the Afcon in 2010, where they were eliminated in the group stages. Interestingly, his Afcon 2013 Super Eagles team were also on the verge of elimination before two Victor Moses penalties in their last group match against Ethiopia delivered them into the quarter finals. Since then, the team has grown in confidence and proved the doubting Thomases wrong.
Now, 19 years after winning the trophy in Tunisia and 13 years after their last appearance in an Afcon final, the Super Eagles can finally stand up and be counted in South Africa.
Like midfielder John Obi Mikel rightly noted, Keshi could be said to be a lucky coach. Indeed. The Eagles’ lucky charms seem to have been the enterprising Moses and striker Emmanuel Emenike, who might finish the tournament as the highest goal scorer - just like the late Rashidi Yekini did in 1994. However, beside Moses and Emenike, any of the players could be the joker in the final. They proved this with their display of teamwork and purposeful football in the semi-finals, where they took Mali to the cleaners. This team may have come of age in so short a time simply because Keshi is blessed with 23 determined players, brimming with passion and potentials, hungry enough to make their Fatherland proud, who can’t wait to get their hands on the Afcon trophy.
“We have real expectation of winning. From the moment we qualified, we knew we were capable of winning it. So, our expectation is to win the trophy and make Nigerians happy,” said Keshi before the tournament kicked off.
In November 2011 when the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) appointed him as coach of the Eagles, Keshi’s coaching contract included a condition that he must qualify for South Africa 2013 and reach the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Not only has he surpassed the first, he may go on to do the same with the second if they let him continue his rebuilding efforts.
More especially as his Eagles team have improved with every match, maturing into a fine blend, like vintage wine. While he may need to do more on improving their tactical discipline, Keshi and his evolving team are well on the threshold of making golden history. Barring the upset of upsets, with over 160 million Nigerians cheering and thousands more inside Soccer City, Johannesburg, the 51 year-old and his Super Eagles team would be crowned African champions on Sunday.