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Football | Afcon

Keshi in 94 with the Afcon trophy © Gallo Images

Keshi's long road to history



In the history of the Africa Cup of Nations, it has proven quite difficult for former players, who have won the tournament to replicate it as managers. Rabah Madjer of Algeria, Christian Chukwu and Augustine Eguavoen, both Nigerians, are few who won the tournament as players but have all failed to succeed as managers at different editions.

Then there are a number of those who have taken part in the Afcon as players and coaches but never won it. Among them are Badou Zaki (Morocco), Kalusha Bwalya (Zambia), Jean-Manga Onguene (Cameroon), Amara Traore (Senegal), Sami Trabelsi (Tunisia), Patrick Phiri (Zambia) and Lamine N'Diaye (Senegal).

However, only one man belongs to the legendary club of winning the Afcon as a player and a coach - Mahmoud El Gohary. Before the Egyptian passed on in September 2012 at the age of 74, he won the Afcon in 1959 as a player with Egypt's Pharaohs and won it as a coach in 1998 with his country's national team.

Now another man, Stephen Keshi, who is Nigeria head coach at the ongoing Afcon in South Africa, is on the verge of joining the exclusive legendary club when his team square up against Burkina Faso in the final at the National Stadium in Johannesburg on Sunday.

First Afcon appearance

Keshi's first-ever appearance at the tournament was in 1982 in Libya when coach Otto Gloria handed him the chance at the age of 20 alongside other youngsters like Henry Nwosu and Ademola Adeshina. Coincidentally, the Nigerian squad to the 1982 Afcon also had Sylvanus Okpala, now one of Keshi's assistants.

His first attempt at the tournament ended with Nigeria crashing out in the group stages but Keshi made his mark by scoring twice against Ethiopia in a 3-0 win.

Runner-up in 1984 Afcon

In 1984, the arm band was entrusted to Keshi by Adegboye Onigbinde, and Nigeria had a great run up till the final before an experienced Cameroon squad ended their dream of winning a second title.

Between 1986 & 1992

Nigeria missed the 1986 Afcon after Zambia knocked them out in the qualifying rounds. But Nigeria returned to the Afcon two years later in Morocco and Keshi was involved but again Cameroon grounded his ambition to win a first African title.

But in 1990, Dutchman, Clemens Westerhof opted to leave out Keshi and other big stars for home-bred talents like Ben Iroha, Isaac Semitoje, Thompson Oliha, Friday Elaho and Daniel Amokachi.

In 1992, Keshi was called back to the Nigerian squad for the Afcon in Senegal at age 29 while in the books of RC Strasbourg. But he could only guide Nigeria to a third place finish.

First & only African crown

After the disappointment of four previous appearances at the tournament, Keshi at the age of 32 won his first and only African title. At the 1994 Afcon in Tunisia, Keshi's libero powers had waned due to recurring injuries leaving Westerhof with the option of turning to Uche Okechukwu and Uche Okafor as his main men in the heart of defence but his intelligence on and off the ball served him well for the few minutes he appeared in the tournament.

Two failed attempts as a manager

Years after his international career ended with an Afcon winner's medal in his locker, Keshi admitted to the BBC that adjusting to normal life outside the game had been "difficult."

"For the first two years after I left the game, making the adjustment to life after football was difficult," he said.

Soon Keshi was on track for the coaching business. After working as Nigeria's Under-20s head coach in 2001 without success in terms of results and then assistant to Shuaibu Amodu at the 2002 Afcon, Keshi took charge of Togo in 2004 and later Mali in 2008 as head coach.

But his first two attempts at the Afcon as head coach of Togo and Mali in 2006 and 2010 respectively ended with early exits in the group stages.

Third time lucky?

Keshi's third attempt at the Afcon as a manager has been typified with accusations and criticisms from most of his countrymen. But after dropping key players like Obafemi Martins, Kalu Uche, Peter Osaze Odemwingie, Taye Taiwo, Obinna Nsofor and Yakubu Aiyegbeni his team have soldiered their way into the tournament's final against all odds.

Now more than ever, the former Nigerian captain is also the path of making history.

Chasing history on two fronts

Keshi is now on two lanes to history in the Afcon. First, he will become only the second man to win the tournament as a player and coach. Second, he will become the only Nigerian manager to win the Afcon should the Super Eagles defeat Burkina Faso's Stallions this Sunday.

"Seriously I want to concentrate on the games one at a time," he said days before his team reached the 2013 Afcon final. "It's good to have a chance to achieve such historical feat but I'm focused first on the games before us."

Onigbinde, who made Keshi captain of Nigeria 29 years ago as a 22-year-old, is hoping the Super Eagles win on Sunday.

"It's no longer a matter of him surpassing what I achieved as a coach. In fact, I'm very happy and fulfilled to see a player who played under me as a coach many years ago be in such a position to achieve legendary status. It only shows he learnt very well and improved himself.

"It's like a father watching his son grow, have his family and become a successful man in life. No sweeter joy than seeing your son achieve greater things in life than you as a father. Now I pray he wins this on Sunday with his team because it is a chance in his life to put his name in history," said Onigbinde to supersport.com.

But Keshi will have to wait till Sunday to know if his troops will defeat Burkina Faso and make put him side by side with 'The General' of Pharaohs, El-Gohary, in an exclusive club of African army.

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