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Football | Afcon

Stephen Keshi with John Obi Mikel © Backpagepix

Coach Keshi seeks Afcon glory



Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi could well join Egypt's Mahmoud El Gohary in an exclusive club of those who have won the Africa Cup of Nations both as a player and a coach.

'Big Boss' Keshi skippered the Super Eagles to their second Nations Cup triumph in Tunisia in 1994 and he is now in charge of the team for the tournament in South Africa.

Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel has backed Keshi to make history as a coach.

"Keshi has already won this tournament as a player and I believe he can make history as a coach, too, by winning it," said Mikel.

"We have some great individuals and if we can bring all our qualities together and play as a team, we can make his dream come true."

The Eagles may not be one of the favourites in South Africa after they failed to qualify for last year's competition in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea, but Keshi says his team has great potential to do well.

"Many don't know how good this team is. I see potential in them and they can go places," said the coach, who led Togo and Mali in previous Nations Cup tournaments.

Keshi replaced Samson Siasia as coach in November 2011 and has embarked on rebuilding a once proud team who, in 1994, were ranked fifth in the world by Fifa.

From the outset, he has worked with players in the domestic league, who for many years were used only as "training material" by the national team.

The players from Europe will dominate his team at this competition even though he dropped several top stars like Peter Odemwingie, Obafemi Martins and Taye Taiwo.

And the result is that six locals made the final 23-man squad to South Africa, a remarkable departure from the 2008 and 2010 squads that did not feature any Nigeria Premier League players.

"I will always say names don't play football and that is why we are now working with players who will help us to do well. If these players are in the league at home, so be it," he said.

Nigeria under Keshi have won six matches and drawn six in 14 games with their two losses being against Egypt and Peru.

The Eagles trained in Faro, Portugal, for two weeks prior to the Nations Cup and recorded disappointing draws against Cape Verde and Catalonia before winning games against Dutch and Portuguese clubs.

Pressure is, therefore, on Keshi to deliver in South Africa, but he has insisted there is no cause for alarm.

"If there is any pressure on me to perform at the Nations Cup, it is pressure from me, not from any other quarters. We are not under any pressure to win," he maintained.

"I don't want to promise Nigerians anything, but I will do my best with the team in South Africa."

Al Gohary, who died last September, was a Cup of Nations champion as a player in 1959 and as a coach in 1998.

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