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Keshi makes a strong statement


Well done to Nigeria and Stephen Keshi for winning the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time since 1994. As far as population size and pedigree is concerned, the Super Eagles certainly underachieved for a while – this triumph ends 19 years of frustration.

I followed the news that Stephen Keshi had allegedly resigned and then subsequently rescinded his decision. He was clearly frustrated at a number of issues that transpired behind the scenes. In truth, internal politics have been the Nigerian FA’s major problem for a number of years now. What’s the point of hiring a coach if you want to interfere? Manage the team yourself if you don’t want the coach to do his job.

Deep down, though, I believe Keshi always wanted to stay on. Why throw away the chance to compete at the Confederations Cup in June and possibly the 2014 World Cup in Brazil? I think he simply needed to make a statement, which he has now done effectively.

Keshi, his technical team and the players have created this wonderful moment so why wouldn’t you want to go further? I strongly disagree with those who suggest he should have gone out on a ‘high’. In top-level coaching, somewhere along the line, you will be hired and fired.

Now that Nigeria are the reigning champions of Africa, I believe Keshi can work from a position of power. Hopefully he will now be afforded more leeway to do his job and there will be slightly less pressure on him.

Turning to the final, Burkina Faso showed Nigeria far too much respect in the first half. I felt they would have been better served taking the game to the Nigerians and bombarding them on attack.

I believe Paul Put’s inexperience of final football showed as the Burkinabe approached the game far too conservatively. The Stallions appeared rather wary of the Super Eagles and sat back instead of making a statement of intent. The team really lacked confidence in the first half and looked overawed by the occasion.

At least they came out of their shell in the second half and prised a few openings but it was simply a case of too little too late. You are never going to win a final with only one shot on target.

Their defence, which had been rock solid throughout the tournament, for some reason looked rather ordinary in the final. They put themselves under a lot of undue pressure and were ultimately punished when Sunday Mba scored what proved to be the winner.

It was indeed a coolly-taken goal from Mba but I felt the referee did well to allow play to continue. Credit must go to the man in the middle for his performance on the day.

While the final was never going to be a cracker, as pressure games are always tight affairs, I felt the game missed the presence of the injured Emmanuel Eminike. He has the ability to find goals out of nothing and may well have brought more flair to the encounter.

It didn’t surprise me that a total of 28 fouls were racked up on the day. When two physically -imposing West African teams clash there are always going to be tough tackles flying in.

While Put’s success shows there is always a place for European coaches in Africa, I believe that we need to trust our local coaches more often to do the job. When it comes down to difficult situations, I feel they ultimately have a better understanding of the players.

A lot has been made of the poor standard of refereeing during the 29th edition of Afcon. However, when you have tournament of 32 games you will always get a few matches where referees get it wrong. That said, the referee who took charge of the Ghana-Burkina Faso match made some glaring errors and was rightly reprimanded. Overall, I don’t think the standard of officiating was as poor as some may suggest.

With their amount of depth and quality, Ivory Coast have to be the tournament’s biggest disappointment. Of small consolation will be the fact that they were knocked out by the eventual champions.

Another team that never set the tournament alight were Ghana. While they reached the semifinal, that was rather fortuitous. They were awarded five penalties in the competition, some justified and others not and against Mali their goalkeeper should have been sent off early in the game.

The smaller teams I was most impressed with were Cape Verde and Ethiopia. They did extremely well and it shows how evenly balanced modern-day football is now, with all the technology at team’s fingertips.

Jonathan Pitroipa was a more than decent choice for player of the tournament. Although he was ultimately on the losing side in the final, he really carried his team.

To my mind the other standout was Victor Moses. The Chelsea player was a constant threat with his pace and surging runs.

There were some small issues, which always come with hosting a major event, but overall I believe the tournament was a great success. Ask anyone around the world which country they would choose to host a sporting event and South Africa would be top of their list.


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