Now that the Eagles will be in South Africa, what next for Stephen Keshi?

After earning the Nations Cup ticket in an amazing fashion last weekend, what is the way forward for the national team coach and his crew ahead of the tournament
By Babajide Alaka | Deputy Editor

Yes, we (myself included in the proud Nigerian clique) qualified for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations when countries like Egypt and Cameroon failed to make it – Cameroon, four-time champions fell to a country called Cape Verde with a population of less than 600,000 - but can we we say it is uhuru for the Super Eagles?

After the first leg 2-2 draw with Liberia, I was so sure we were going to beat the Lone Star in Calabar and I predicted a wide margin score line which came to pass. I was so sure because our players, at least the new ones, wanted to go to their first Nations Cup – a lot of the home based and the newly infused ones like Efe Ambrose, Ahmed Musa, Victor Moses, Nosa Igiebor and Brown Ideye – so there was new enthusiasm in the camp of the national team which complemented the old horses, who have literally seen it all.

Now, the next phase is to plan to win it – which will be hard for the team under coach Stephen Keshi and the reason is simple – he does not know his first 11.

All through the 11 months that he has been in the saddle, he has chopped and changed and in the press briefing held last Wednesday, he said the likes of Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Obafemi Martins and Victor Anichebe still have a chance of getting into the team.

Now that assertion is itself a good thing because it tells the world that the coach has many options but it also raises a red flag because the Nations Cup starts in 90 days.

Yes that is how short the time lag is between now and the start of that crucial tournament because it will either signify a re-emergence of the 'Super' Eagles or confirm the signs that Nigeria has slipped in the pecking order of football in Africa, and by extension in the world.

At the present time, Keshi should have only about six spaces left to be filled but from the signals which come from his utterances, it seems that all Nigerian players wherever they may be have the chance of making this team but that should not be the case as he will only have two friendly matches, at the most, and the two weeks prior to the tournament to see all the players and so where does that leave the chances of the Eagles in South Africa?

The match against Liberia showed that Nigeria still possesses some players that can and will threaten other teams especially on neutral ground in Africa but the coach needs to harness these materials.

Definitely, there are some players who will believe that come what may, they will be in South Africa. These are the players that most of us will call the coach’s boys but that in itself is not a bad thing – most notable coaches in the world have these players on whom the coach can always count on.

So what should the coach do? There are some players he does not need, who do not fit into his plans – he should let them know now. There are some players he has to discard from his present setup – they should go now and the search for their replacements should begin in earnest.

The last but most important part is that he must address himself. He must know that the more altruistic he is in the approach to choosing players for the team will give him the needed leeway to have serious control over the affairs of the team.

So against these teams; Ghana, Zambia, Mali, Tunisia, Cote d'Ivoire, Morocco, Ethiopia, Cape Verde, Angola, Niger, Togo, Congo DR, Burkina Faso, South Africa and Algeria, I say surely the Eagles stand a good chance but they need to get their acts together starting with the coach.

There is no time and though it was good to see champagne being popped in Calabar on Saturday, the real work has to start now, Nigerians are not prepared to settle for any "golden bronze" in South Africa. Let us go there and win it – it has been 19 years since Nigeria last wore the tag of the best football country in Africa – that should be the goal of going to South Africa.
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