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Keshi finally return looking for better Cup experience

06 June 2014, 08:13

Abuja - Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi finally returns to the World Cup after 20 years, hoping for a major improvement on his previous experiences with world football's showpiece tournament.

Keshi, whose nickname is "Big Boss", was the captain of Nigeria for their maiden World Cup appearance in the United States in 1994 but fell out with Dutch coach Clemens Westerhof and played only one of their four games.

He was a bitter and forlorn figure as Nigeria won a second round place but then narrowly lost to Italy.

It marked the end of his international playing career but he quickly took up coaching reins as an assistant with the Nigerian side thereafter.

Today though, things are looking up. He has manoeuvred around the fierce political infighting that often stymies the Nigeria FA and heads to Brazil with his team wearing the crown of African champions with a realistic chance of making it through a first round group involving Argentina, Iran and debutants Bosnia.

Asked if there was added pressure on him because of Nigeria's position as Africa's top team, Keshi said there wasn't - and he wasn't stressed about the task ahead.

"No, I don't feel the pressure. In this game there are three things that can happen, you can win, draw or lose. Whatever happens you just have to move on.

"It's true that people are focusing on us now, there is always a lot of expectation back home - but there is no panic. All I can do is concentrate on my job and my players, and that's it."

Stunning upset

In 2004, frustrated by a lack of opportunity to take sole charge of the Super Eagles, he took over as coach of Togo and in a stunning upset qualified the tiny west Africa country for the 2006 finals.

But he was denied a chance to return to the World Cup, fired months before the tournament in Germany after a tiff with key striker Emmanuel Adebayor left officials with a choice between the two.

Keshi, who has kept his home in California over the last 20 years, later coached Mali at the 2010 African Nations Cup but their strong side proved disappointing.

Failure by former team mate Samson Siasia to qualify Nigeria for the 2012 African Nations Cup saw Keshi finally get his chance at the helm.

Within a year the 52-year-old won the 2013 Nations Cup, becoming only the second man to do so as both player and coach.

"Big Boss" is a laconic yet charismatic figure whose playing career at Anderlecht and Racing Strasbourg spurned the obsession generations of Nigerian footballers have with landing contracts with European clubs.

And he does not rule out a move back to Europe some time in the future.

After Nigeria won the African title last year he told reporters: "I hope the big European clubs take note of this, that an African coach can be successful. I hope too that one day they give an African coach the chance to prove what he can do in Europe too."

- Reuters


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