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Chad Put Keshi’s Credentials To The Test

He returned home to a hero’s welcome after guiding Nigeria to their third Africa Cup of Nations triumph 19 years after captaining the squad that won the title in Tunisia, but Stephen Keshi became the country’s most detested villain when the Super Eagles failed to qualify for the 2015 edition of the tournament in Equatorial Guinea.

Nigeria open their Gabon 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign against minnows Chad in Kaduna on Saturday and Keshi will be out to prove his managerial credentials, which came under scrutiny after the Eagles failed to qualify for Equatorial Guinea 2015.

Many questioned his tactical nous – and his selection for matches.

Nigeria are pitted against record seventh-time champions Egypt, Tanzania and Chad in Group C of the Gabon 2017 qualifiers.

Keshi was showered with more cash, awards and honours after he capped off a successful   year by helping Nigeria seal their place at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

He became the second man in history to win the Africa Cup of Nations as a player and as coach after Mohamed El Gohary of Egypt after Nigeria won the continental showpiece in South Africa in 2013.

Keshi also made history as the first Nigerian to help qualify the country for the World Cup as a player and   as a coach – and playing in the country’s first appearance at the tournament – at USA ’94. He became the first black African coach to reach the second round of the World Cup – at Brazil 2014.

Nigeria appeared at the World Cup for the first time at USA ’94 and exited the tournament at the round of 16 after their 2-1 defeat by Italy. Dutchman Clemens Westerhof, who helped the country qualify for the championship, had steered the Eagles to the Tunisia ’94 Africa Cup of Nations success before the team arrived in the United States for the World Cup.

Serbian Bora Milutinovic piloted the Eagles to the second round of the France ’98 World Cup where they lost   4-1 to Denmark. The Eagles were sent packing at the first round of the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup in Korea under the stewardship of Adegboye Onigbinde. Swede coach Lars Lagerback like Onigbinde failed to win a single at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Both coaches profited from Shaibu Amodu’s misfortune. The Nigeria Football Federation sacked Amodu and asked Onigbinde to take Nigeria to the 2002 World Cup after the former BCC Lions manager guided the Eagles to a third-place finish at the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations in Mali and their third World Cup in Korea and Japan.

Amodu was also fired after he helped Nigeria qualify for   the 2010 World Cup – and finished third at the Angola 2010 Africa Cup of Nations.

Keshi has invited only seven players who featured in the Equatorial Guinea 2015 qualifiers for today’s clash against Chad, who have not qualified for the tournament since its inception in 1957. Nigeria and Chad have never met on the international level.

Lille goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, CSKA Moscow winger Ahmed Musa, Turkey-based defender Godfrey Oboabona, Middlesbrough defender Kenneth Omeruo and Lazio midfielder Ogenyi Onazi, who won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations were invited by Keshi along with Ukraine-based midfielder Babatunde Michael and China-based forward Aaron Samuel for the Kaduna encounter.

The Eagles manager also invited relatively unknown overseas-based players, including Holland-based William Troost-Ekong, Slovenia-based Kingsley Madu, Portugal-based Anderson Esiti and Switzerland-based Steven Ukoh.

Keshi has in his armoury Watford striking sensation Odion Ighalo, who will be looking to take advantage of the absence off-form Turkey-based Emmanuel Emenike   to tie down a regular starting place in the attack.

Other players will also be out to take advantage of the absence of South Africa 2013 Africa Cup of Nations winners Chelsea midfielder Mikel Obi, Celtic defender Efe Ambrose, Monaco left-back Elderson Echiejile, Villarreal forward Ikechukwu Uche, West Brom striker Brown Ideye, Stoke attacker Victor Moses   and Hapoel Be’er Sheva goalkeeper Austin Ejide to play themselves into contention for roles in the team.

The Eagles are expected to win the encounter convincingly to prove they have learned some lessons from their failure to reach Equatorial Guinea – and are ready to qualify for the competition this time around.

Nigeria lost 3-2 to Congo in their Equatorial Guinea 2015 opening encounter in Calabar last year and the defeat undoubtedly   played a major role in Nigeria’s inability to qualify for the tournament.

Keshi was hit with a tirade of hostile abuse after the Eagles squandered a gilt-edged opportunity to beat South Africa to seal their place in the tournament on final day, with the Uyo encounter on November 19, 2014 ending in a 2-2 draw.

And the development sparked a fierce debate in the country whether the former Togo manager should be given a new contract. But after protracted negotiations, the NFF   offered the ex-Mali coach a new contract to manage the national team for another two years.

Meanwhile, the Eagles have been warned not to underestimate the Chadians to avoid another shock result in their Africa Cup of Nations qualifying opening match at home.

Tunisia ’94 Africa Cup of Nations winners Mutiu Adepoju and Edema Fuludu have tipped Chad to give Nigeria a run for their money in the encounter, urging the Eagles to treat the qualifier like a cup final.

“The game has developed on the continent and we shouldn’t repeat the mistakes that cost us a place at Equatorial Guinea 2015,” former Nigeria midfielder Adepoju told our correspondent.

“We must prepare well for every game. And the players should give us their best effort in every game.”

The former Spain-based player added, “They (Chad) also want to play in the Africa Cup of Nations and will fight like lions to realise their dreams.

“If we go to sleeping thinking they will be afraid of us because of our record, we may be making a big mistake.”

Former Nigeria midfielder Fuludu warned that the Chadians could spring a surprise in Kaduna and urged the Eagles to take the encounter seriously .

“We should not make the mistake we made against Congo (in the Equatorial 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers) last year,” he said.

“We lost the match (3-2 in Calabar) because we underrated the Congolese.”

However, Keshi says his charges are ready for the challenge, promising that the Eagles won’t repeat Congo mistakes against Chad.

“The Chadian squad are dominated by players plying their trade in the French lower divisions, Morocco, Algeria and Gabon. Chadian league champions Foullah Edifice, Rennaisance and Elect-Sport also have players in the Central African’s national   team, he said.

Source: PUNCH.


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