Super Eagles coach, Stephen Keshi at a parley with journalists in Lagos at the weekend threw some more light into Eagles campaign at the Nations Cup and other issues. Here are some excerpts...
What went through your mind during the last five minutes and the first five minutes of the final match against Burkina Faso at the last Nations Cup?
You will recall that we met Burkina in the first game and we conceded a last minute goal. I was hopeful that the boys will stay focused and soak up the pressure. We had already discussed all this before the match and I was relieved when the referee blew the final whistle. After the match, we were overwhelmed, I was happy, beating Cote díIvoire in the quarter finals was like winning the final and it really pushed the boys. Everyone expected us to beat Burkina and we kind of took it for granted that we were going to win. I just thank God.
What does it mean to you being the first former captain and coach to win the cup?
You know that really didnít cross my mind at the time. I was just focused on winning the match and putting smiles on the faces of Nigerians.
Now that Super Eagles are African Champions, what are your plans for the future and are you satisfied with present team or do you intend to improve the team?
Let me start by saying that we are still building, this team is still evolving. Immediately after the finals, I sat down with the other coaches to map out a strategy of improving the team. Hopefully by Godís grace, we Ďll get there. There are a lot of options still available to us. This team can do much better than they have done but we need to be patient.
By the time the players play in their right positions, weíll do much better. It takes patience and hard work and then God Ďll take care of the rest.
The Super Eagles are yet to lose a competitive game since you took over, are you assuring Nigerians that the trend will continue?
Iím happy that you raised this issue. When we first started, a lot of people didnít trust us and didnít believe in our project. They were always wondering and asking Ďwhat kind of players is Keshi carrying about? Can these boys make it?í Well, I leave them to judge now. Coming to issue of losing, every team is bound to lose because losing is part of the game. When a coach sends out a team, only three things can happen- you either win, lose or draw and if you lose, itís not the end of the world. So Iím not really worried about that.
Nigerians are still interested in your strategy for the Cote díIvoire match. How did you manage to pull it off?
Thank you for that question! The game against CIV was a tactical game. I and my assistants had to sit down before the game to strategise on how to stop them. We concluded that that the Ivorians individually are very good but as a team, they donít play well. Against Togo, their build-up was slow from the middle which made it easy for Togo to score against them.
We had to map out a plan to take out their key players - Gervinho, Yaya Toure, Kalou so as to starve Drogba of the supply of balls. If we did this, we knew the game will be over. Our boys are younger and more aggressive and so we planned to keep possession of the ball and play a passing game and that was what we did for 90 minutes.
The issue of conceding late goals by the Eagles is now a source for concern; what are you doing about it?
When you are on the pitch for 90 minutes- especially when playing difficult games, sometimes itís not easy maintaining full concentration towards the end of the game. Thatís why we always try to calm the players by telling them to stay focused- especially when the game is tight and your team needs to win. These are the times we tell to them to try and concentrate. Itís not easy, but in football, a certain level of concentration is needed. But weíll keep working on it till will get it right.
What really happened in South Africa. A lot of stories went round abut Eagles being called Super Chickens, resignations and all that. Secondly, are you going to continue playing Yobo so that he can get to the 100 caps mark or are you dropping him?
I heard a lot of talk about Super Chickens before I took over but Iím not sure about that now. All that talk has stopped, we have gone back to the way we were. Now we are back. As per the second part of your question concerning Yobo, he will continue to be my captain and also continue playing for the team for as long as heís fit and relevant and this goes for all other players, Osaze, Obafemi and the rest of them. Everyone will get a chance to play, so long as they are fit and are ready to play with the team.
(Cuts in) There were some insinuations before that Cote díIvoire match about threats to sack you and l that you resigned, what really happened, please clear the air?
I must confess that initially, I didnít hear about some of these things before the match but after the game, most of it were related to me. What happened was that before the game, some FA officials went round the players asking them their destinations after the game so that their flights can be booked . Most of them were not happy about that development because they felt the federation had already given up on them. The players were very angry and some of them showed it openly.
Why did it take you so long to introduce a player like Mba?
Thanks for that question. Mba is a very good player, no doubt; but for what happened to Fegor (Ogude) would I have thought of him? If I had started the Nations Cup with some of the other home- based players I had in the team, Nigerian would have called for my head. There other equally good players in the team like Reuben and Onazi who had a good tournament. Iím happy for Mba but if I had started Mba before Nosa Igiebor, what would you have said?
You left out some good players who could have guaranteed you goals at the Nations Cup and rather opted for home- based players and 17 AFCON debutantes. What were the reasons behind this?
I understand what you mean but when I started with the national team years ago, I was just 17 years plus and somebody gave me a chance then. If I was not given that chance then, maybe I wonít be here now. Yes, there are players who have scored 20 goals, with 15 assists in European leagues whom I could have chosen, but what are their contributions to the team? I donít need players or stars who will only play for themselves.
I have a bunch of players now who have high work rates and who can work for the team. Of course, others will still get their chance. There are still many games to play and like I said before, I have a pool of 50 players to choose from and everyone will get their chance.
Why did you stick with Omeruo?
Thatís a nice one; I always tell my players, when you get a chance to play, grab it, even if itís five minutes, it may be enough for you to impress me. When Yobo got injured in the first match, I decided to try this boy Omeruo and he impressed me and after that, I cannot take him out. Itís not about Yobo, itís for the good of the team. The same thing with others ; Reuben couldnít play but heís also good. So also is Azubuike who was a regular before the Nations Cup but he never got to play. It doesnít make him a bad player and thatís me. Iím never scared to try these boys.
Will you negotiate a new contract with the NFF?
No, my current contract is still on. I donít need to approach them to negotiate a new contract. Itís up to them. If I win more trophies for instance, if they like, they can call me, then we will talk or when my time is up, I will go. But itís not in my plan to ask them to renegotiate.