Ekpo talks on Keshi's birds
This week one of the shining lights from the 1992 edition of the Africa
Cup of Nations, Friday Ekpo talks to supersport.com after his countrymen,
Nigeria's Super Eagles, tore to shreds the form book to reach the last four
at the expense of pre-tournament favourites, Cote d'Ivoire.
He talks on his former teammate, Stephen Keshi, now head coach of the
Nigerian squad and the famous win over Cote d'Ivoire's Elephants as well as
on the performance of home boys, Sunday Mba and Godfrey Oboabona and the
national team's rebuilding process.
Win against Cote d'Ivoire
Ekpo, 43, believes the win against the Elephants was no fluke and said to
supersport.com: "In the game of football you don't write off your opponents
until the game is over. The Super Eagles showed their inner strength by
digging deep to win in the face of criticism. At times, the quality of your
opponents can raise your game and that was what happened.
"I'm happy they are in the semifinals now. So the work doesn't end with
defeating the Ivorians."
Semifinal versus Mali
With the Eagles of Mali firmly perched for a semifinal showdown with the
Super Eagles, the ex-Shell Sport midfielder has warned Keshi and his men
that it will not be a stroll in the park.
"Mali have been the team many people seem not to give attention. They are
a unit and crafty too. So it is always going to be a difficult game and our
boys now need to shake off the win against Cote d'Ivoire and focus on this
game," he said.
Asked if Nigeria will benefit from having played for only 90 minutes
compared to the gruelling two hours of football the Malians went through to
defeat hosts, South Africa in the quarterfinals, Ekpo dismissed that
"It counts for nothing. The Malians had an extra day (Sunday) to
condition themselves for the semifinal game (on Wednesday) while our team
played on the day they took a rest," said Ekpo. "On that basis, it will make
no sense to write off Mali."
Sunday Mba & Godfrey Oboabona
The performance of Mba and Oboabona earned them plaudit from Ekpo, who
believes the duo's seamless adaptation into the Super Eagles' team will open
opportunities to players from the local league.
"This is an opportunity to create a team from the (local) league so that
we can always have a pool to draw from," he offered.
"I've always been an advocate of building our national teams from the
home front because myself, Keshi and others started here before moving
abroad to play club football."
After guiding his team past Cote d'Ivoire's golden generation, Ekpo hopes
that Keshi's critics will now sheathe their swords and allow the coach and
team focus on their next match.
"I think the pressure will be a lot less now on Keshi and his team. Now
they are understanding themselves with every game, which is good," said
"Keshi's plan to pick home-based players in his team is not a surprise to
me. He played in the Nigerian league and has decided to bring in players
from same league. Unfortunately he couldn't pick more than six because at
the time the league was not in progress. He has shown he can manage very
well as the team's coach.
"It's been a long time any coach has been brave enough to include players
from the league at home in their team. But Keshi has done it and kudos to
him. I hope he is given the chance to stay long on the job."
Winning the 2013 Afcon
But the former Mbilinga playmaker was quick to caution Nigerians not to
start demanding that the team win the Afcon after defeating Cote
He reminded that it is still an open field for all four teams in the
semis and that the hungriest side will win the title.
"At this point all the teams in the semifinals have a chance to win the
tournament. So we have to be careful with our ambition of winning it after
beating Cote d'Ivoire. Yes it was good the team beat Cote d'Ivoire but that
doesn't guarantee that they will just walk up and claim the title without a
challenge. Like Nigeria, I'm sure Ghana, Mali and Burkina Faso want to win
it badly too. So we shouldn't press it on Keshi and his team that it is a
must that they win (the Afcon). But I believe the players now know they are
closer and won't want to lose it," the former Nigerian international rounded