“Now, I want to see those Nigerians who say my team (Super Eagles) is not good enough. We are working day and night here in South Africa trying to put smiles on the face of our people back home, and there are some people praying for our downfall. Even some of you (journalists) didn’t believe we could beat Cote d’Ivoire. God pass them. Tell them that I, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, says my God pass them.”
That was the reaction of the late Stephen Keshi shortly after leading the Super Eagles to beat the ‘dreaded’ Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire in the quarterfinal of the South Africa 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
After leading the Eagles to 2-0 victory over Ethiopia, who were returning to the Nations Cup for the first time in 31 years, the challenge for Keshi was how to navigate the quarterfinal game against the Elephants, who paraded a crack squad including Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Emmanuel Eboue, Kolo Toure, Didier Zokora, Cheik Tiote and Boubacar Barry.
The hype and outside-field events leading to the game were so high. It was tagged ‘the battle of Rustenburg.’ A boast by one of the Ivoirian defenders, Emmanuel Eboue, that they would eat the Super Eagles like ‘super fried chicken’ added to the drama.
Also of worry to Keshi was a newspaper report that the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) then led by Aminu Maigari had already confirmed the Eagles flight ticket back to Nigeria even when the match had not been played.
As the two teams set out for the Royal Bafokeng Stadium for the epic encounter, a lot of things were running on Keshi’s mind. “I didn’t sleep well last night,” the ‘Big Boss’ confessed in a chat with The Guardian at the team’s hotel shortly after the victory over Cote d’Ivoire.
“So many people were actually waiting to celebrate our defeat in this game because they want us out of the competition by all means. That is coaching job for you. But God has given us victory against the Elephants. This victory is a victory for all Nigerians. It’s something I have been waiting for so long to make Nigerians everywhere in the world happy. Even if we win this trophy, this particular victory over Cote d’Ivoire will remain my happiest moment,” he stated.
Like he predicted, Nigeria went on to defeat the Eagles of Mali 4-1 in Durban in the semifinal before overcoming the Stallions of Burkina Faso 1-0 in Johannesburg on the last day.
Though Keshi is dead, Nigerians, home and abroad will continue to remember him for his contribution to the nation’s football, both as a player and as a coach. His sad exit brings to five the number of former players in the ‘Golden Generation’ of Super Eagles to die.
Among the triumphant Super Eagles squad of 1994, Uche Okafor, Thompson Oliha, Rashidi Yekini and Wilfred Agbonavbare have all died.Keshi lost Kate, his wife of 35 years, to cancer last December. “Since her death, Keshi has been in mourning. He came back to Nigeria to be with her.
He had planned to fly back on Wednesday, before he suffered a cardiac arrest,” a family spokesman, Emmanuel Ado, said yesterday.
Source: The Guardian