A Cup in the Eagles’ nest
Leaving home unsung, Nigeria’s Super Eagles surprise their supporters and earn their third Nations Cup trophy. But the overall organisation of the tournament in South Africa leaves a lot to be desired, reports our editor, Osasu Obayiuwana, who covered the tournament.
Being the only living person in the continent, to have won the Cup of Nations as a player, team captain and head coach – and with an all-Nigerian coaching crew to boot – ought to have put Nigeria’s Stephen Okechukwu Keshi on the moon.
But the Super Eagles’ 1-0 win over Burkina Faso’s Les Etalons (The Stallions) in the final, at Johannesburg’s Soccer City, giving Africa’s most populous country its third title, after a near 20-year wait, only conjured a wee smile from his lips.
“I’m proud of what I have achieved… My goal, when I took over this team, was to make Nigerians happy and I am happy I have achieved that,” he said at the post-match press conference, where I sat less than three metres away from him.
Captain and central defender, Joseph Yobo, who largely sat on the bench during the tournament, as a result of a nagging injury, said having the trophy in his hands was “a dream come true”.
“This is my sixth Africa Cup of Nations and I wanted this to be my last. I’m short of words,” said the Fenerbahce player, who admitted that even he expressed his doubts to Keshi, about winning the trophy, before arriving in South Africa.
As the first black African coach to win a Nations Cup title in 21 years and only one of three to do so in 31 years (Ghana’s Charles Kumi Gyamfi and Côte D’Ivoire’s Yeo Martial being the others, at the 1982 and 1992 tournaments, in Libya and Senegal, respectively), Keshi used the bully pulpit of his second Nations Cup triumph to send a stern message to the continent’s football administrators.
“When local coaches take over a team, they are never given time to perform. Federations need to give them time, like they give the foreigners…” Keshi’s statement barely hid his deep anger, over the perceived lack of support from the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), during the pressure-cooker moments of the tournament.
The kettle of discontent finally came to an overboil, in public, 24 hours after the Cup win.
Going on the popular Johannesburg radio show, 083Sports@6, on Metro FM, Keshi announced that he had resigned his position, immediately after winning the trophy, claiming the level of disrespect shown to him by his employers, the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), left him with no option but to throw in the towel, whilst the ovation was loudest.
During the tournament, especially after the team’s chequered start in the group stages, against Burkina Faso, Zambia and Ethiopia, it was an open secret that a new coach for the team was being sought.
And had the Super Eagles failed to go past the group stages, it was a foregone conclusion that Keshi’s head was going to be on the chopping block.
“If back home, in my country, they don’t appreciate what I am doing with the team, so be it,” Keshi angrily said. “You can’t force somebody to love you. You can’t force somebody to accept you. It has to come from within.”