Ahmed Musa peels away after scoring for the Eagles against Liberia
By Duro Ikhazuagbe
After watching his wards demolish Liberia’s Lone Star 6-1 (8-3 aggregate) in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers last Saturday, Super Eagles Head Coach, Stephen Keshi, heaved a big sigh of relief that he has crossed the first hurdle of the contract he entered into with the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), last November.
Already, the former Togo and Mali gaffer is looking beyond the qualification even as some of his back-room staff and players are still clinking glasses of choice wines in celebration of the victory over the boastful Liberians and the ticket to the next AFCON tournament in South Africa.
“It is now that the real job has started for us. We are grateful to Nigerians and every other person that prayed for our success in the qualification stage. Now that we have the ticket, we have to double our efforts to see that we make a decent impact at the Nations Cup in South Africa next year,” Keshi told THISDAY at the reception venue for the team at the Government House in Calabar few hours after the victory.
Keshi who captained Nigeria to win the 1994 edition of the AFCON however insisted that he was not going to make any promise on what to expect from the Super Eagles in South Africa.
“We are going to take every game at a time. I don’t want to put my players under any pressure from now. Every one of them knows the expectations of Nigerians after we missed the last edition in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. However, I don’t want Nigerians to forget that this is a new team and a new beginning for the country after the slide in our football fortunes. We all know that there is so much work to do,” said the Illah, Delta State-born coach.
He revealed further that the planned international friendly match against Venezuela in Miami, Florida (USA) in November will afford him and the coaching crew to try out a couple of new players to reinforce the Eagles.
“Despite the qualification, I know that there is still room for improvement in the team. We are going to use the Venezuela game to try out some new players to beef up the quality of our game,” stressed the Eagles’ coach.
He poured encomium on most of the players for lifting their game above what Nigerians know of them even as he admitted that the absence of injured captain of the team, Joseph Yobo was not felt.
“Today (Saturday), we lifted the quality of our game to match or even above the expectations of our opponents. Almost every one of my players deserves praise. Mikel in particular was fantastic. The play of my central defenders didn’t make any one to miss the absence of my injured captain (Yobo),” rued Keshi.
First Vice President of the NFF, Chief Mike Umeh confirmed at the reception that some jobs, (including that of Keshi and his assistants) were on the line should Nigeria failed to qualify for the AFCON 2013.
An obviously elated Umeh, while standing in for NFF President, Aminu Maigari, confirmed in his remark at the reception that heads would have rolled if Nigeria did not beat Liberia to the ticket to miss the AFCON back-to-back after the failure of Samson Siasia for the 2012 edition.
“We are very happy for this victory otherwise some peoples’ jobs were already on the line,” stressed Umeh, who was once Super Eagles team manager.