AFCON 2013 - For Stephen Keshi, The End Justifies The Means

Very few pundits could have predicted the Super Eagles celebrating on the winners podium at the start of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations considering their form going into the tournament.
They seemed to improve considerably in their last qualifying tie against Liberia in Calabar with the introduction of Mikel Obi, but there were serious concerns about their defence.

While there were notable improvements in the midfield and attack, it only seemed a matter of time for the wobbly defence to let the team down.

And that moment came to pass in the first match of the Afcon, when Godfrey Oboabona failed to deal with a cross to gift Burkina Faso a late equalizer.

The Eagles only made it to the quarter finals due to persistence of Victor Moses in their last game against Ethiopia and finished behind the Burkinabe's to set up a tie against the pre-tournament favourites Ivory Coast.

Though Stephen Keshi had looked a confused figure during the group stage, he identified some lapses and made some audacious changes that made the team more combative. Kenneth Omeruo came in for Joseph Yobo, while Sunday Mba replaced the disappointing Nosa Igiebor.

Ahmed Musa got the chop in the forward line, while Fegor Ogude's suspension paved the way for Ogenyi Onazi, who took his chance very well.

Nigeria took the game to Ivory Coast and deservedly won. The Eagles had pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the competition, and in doing so the coaches and indeed most Nigerians were convinced the best starting XI had at last been discovered.

The same team took Mali to the cleaners in the semi final, and the concern over the fitness of Emmanuel Emenike and Victor Moses showed the willingness of the technical crew to play the same team in the final.

The Eagles expectedly beat Burkina Faso to lift the trophy for the first time since the turn of the millennium.

The unexpected triumph however vindicates Keshi, who was pilloried by the press for leaving out experienced players, as well as lacking ideas to move the team forward. In a surprising turnaround, comparisons are even being made between Keshi's team and the legendary 1994 side.

Keshi has refused to get carried away, insisting his team is not the finished article yet, but very few would now bet against him qualifying Nigeria for the 2014 Fifa World Cup.

Watching the team play so competitively in its last three matches reminds one of the exploits of Nigerian youth teams in major tournaments. It has always been baffling why they have often failed to carry this form to the senior side. Surely this one team that cannot be called Super Chickens anymore because they are truly the Super Eagles.

Keshi has earned the his respect the hard way and Nigerians are now eager to see how his 'kids' would measure up against the likes of Spain and Brazil in the Fifa Confederation Cup.
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