Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi has reiterated that confidence in the crop of players that he brought to the Africa Cup of Nations has ensured the team’s continued progress as they qualified for the final on Wednesday.
The Super Eagles defeated Mali 4-1 in Durban with goals from Elderson Echiejile, Ideye Brown, Emmanuel Emenike and Ahmed Musa. Mali’s goal was scored by Mady Diarra.
Going into the tournament, Keshi had been criticised for dropping big names Peter Odemwingie, Obafemi Martins and Taye Taiwo among a few others.
“Most Nigerians didn’t understand, it’s not only skilful players that can do the job for you in a tournament. You want the mentality to be strong, you want team players, people that can really work for the team,” Keshi said after the team’s victory.
“Beyond that I know there’s a lot of potential for this team but it’s going to take a while to build and for them to understand the style I want them to play.”
Keshi’s squad has slowly progressed in the tournament where it drew its first couple of matches against Burkina Faso and Zambia before defeating Ethiopia, favourites Cote D’Ivoire and now Mali.
“When we started it was a little bit difficult because we were just coming together for the first time. I knew coming into the tournament, the first two, three games might be difficult because of fatigue.
“But there’s a lot of concentration and high level of discipline in camp and the atmosphere has been wonderful, everything has fallen into place.”
Keshi said he has achieved his aim of trying to put smiles on the faces of his countrymen.
While they go into the final on Sunday against either Ghana or Burkina Faso, there is already comparison of this team with the Nigeria squad of 1994 which he captained to their last Afcon victory and maiden World Cup appearance.
“That squad took five years, this one is only five weeks old. We’re just growing, don’t think we’re there and we can’t lose a game. Sometimes things go up and down, we’re still adding and subtracting. If I see any player that is very good and provides something tangible for my team, I will bring him in,” Keshi said.