Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi has said that Sunday’s victory over Cote D’Ivoire had not gotten into his team’s head and that they will not underrate Mali in the semi final of the Africa Cup of Nations in Durban.
Wednesday’s game comes after the Super Eagles surmounted all odds to beat tournament favourites, the Elephants, 2-1 in a technically sound encounter Rustenburg.
Even though the Malians are ahead of Nigeria on the Fifa global rankings, the Super Eagles are being tipped for a win having seen off top-ranked Ivory Coast. But Keshi, who used to train the Malians, says it won’t be a walk in the park.
“I don’t know about being favourites to win the game or the championship, all I know is that we’re playing a very good side of Mali. I know at least 85 per cent of them played with me for almost two years, it’s not going to be easy. We’re here to play game after game until the end of the tournament,” said Keshi at Tuesday’s pre-match press conference.
Excited to be meeting the Malians that he failed to get past the group stage of Angola 2010 with, Keshi said that “it’s a good feeling.”
The Super Eagles will be welcoming back midfielder Fegor Ogude to the team after he served his one match suspension due to two yellow cards. His place in the team was hardly missed in the game against Ivory Coast as youngster Ogenyi Onazi held his own in the holding midfield role.
“Fegor Ogude should be back after his suspension but we’re trying to build our team, we want to build our team around everybody. We’ll see what happens tomorrow, if he’s going to be there or not,” the trainer said evasively.
Having been tournament underdogs, Keshi said he’s pleased with his team’s progress since he took charge of the team in 2011.
“The progression of the team is gradual. This is a team that has been together for four weeks. We’d been coming together on and off during the qualifiers but we really didn’t have much time to spend together.
“For you to build a team, it can’t happen in a month. You need a minimum of three years but it’s coming along well and I like what I’m seeing. We just have to be patient,” he said.
A place in Sunday’s final awaits both teams. While Nigeria last featured in an Afcon final in 2000 when they lost to Cameroon in Lagos, it has been 41 years since the Malians played in the tournament’s championship game and this should throw up a massive encounter as they seek to win their first ever continental title.