Keshi Still Hopeful For Afcon


African champions Nigeria surprisingly failed to win any of their first two games of 2015 Africa Nations Cup (Afcon) qualifying.

The Super Eagles were shocked 2-3 at home by Congo on match day one and followed that up with a 0-0 draw against South Africa in Cape Town.

The handwriting was clearly on the wall. Large sections of the ever-insatiable Nigeria fans promptly forgot the heroics of Eagles' head coach, Stephen Keshi at the 2013 Afcon where he led the team to the title.

To them, the 'Big Boss' had run out of ideas and it was time to show him the exit.

Keshi, however, called for calm heads. With four more qualifying games, and two at home against Sudan and South Africa, the former Mali and Togo coach believes the feat of taking Nigeria to the 2015 Afcon in Morocco is still achievable.

Nigeria's next two qualifiers are a double header against Sudan – in October. On Friday, 26 September, Keshi named a 23-man squad for the matches.

He then sat down with the Super Eagles to explain why he decided to hand Victor Moses a recall after the recent snub of the Stoke City man.

Keshi also revealed how Fernabahce striker, Emmanuel Emenike angered his teammates shortly before Nigeria's game against Congo on 6 September.

The 'Big Boss' also attempted to clarify the reasons behind the call up of several new faces like China-based Aaron Samuel, Sunday Emmanuel, who plays in Austria, Hope Akpan of English side Reading and Anyora Ugonna, who plies his trade in Norway.

He also spoke about the frustrations of working as head coach of the African champions without a contract. Hello Big Boss. It's been a breathless last three weeks for you.

Stephen Keshi: Yes, Sam, it has but like I've always said, pressure is part of this job. Pressure is part of life and so I can't really complain because it's part of my job. There are several new boys in your latest squad for the games against Sudan next month.

Stephen Keshi: You are correct. I have always stated that every footballer eligible to play for Nigeria, irrespective of where he plays will get a chance to play for his country as long as he's fit and playing regularly at a high level.

Hope Akpan is a player we've been monitoring for some time now. He has already played six matches for his club this season and we believe he can add something to the group.

Samuel (Aaron) is playing in China. He's equally a good player. It's the same thing with the other two boys (Sunday Emmanuel and Anyora Ugonna).

I think it's time to give these players a chance to represent their country at the highest stage and I am hoping they do well for their fatherland and grab this chance. Vincent Enyeama missed the last two games because he had family commitments. Hope all is well with him now?

Stephen Keshi: Well, I am sure everything is okay with him at this moment. He has been playing for his club, Lille in France, after the last game against South Africa so I believe everything is alright now.

Vincent will be with us for the games against Sudan. John Mikel Obi has come under intense criticisms in recent days…

Stephen Keshi: (cuts in) And I don't understand why. It's a pity that a lot of Nigerians don't understand what Mikel does for the team.

Mikel is one of the most professional players I have ever worked with as a coach.

Some persons even say that no one can talk to Mikel even when he's doing wrong. I find that very shocking.

Anyone who knows me as a coach and a person will tell you that the only person I cannot question is God. So I laugh when I hear stories that I can't speak to Mikel if he goes astray.

I really don't care who you are. I will tell you how I feel. John and I, we understand each other.

It's time for Nigerians to start appreciating Mikel because he works so hard for the team.

The fact is that in all spheres of life, it's impossible to find any individual that operates at the same level all through. We all have bad days and it's the same for Mikel and all other footballers in the world.

I am not defending Mikel but I know he has so much passion for this country.

However, I want to say I am disappointed in the manner in which we criticise our national team players. If we continue on this path, we will discourage upcoming footballers from playing for their country.

Mikel is a big asset to the team. You left out Victor Moses from the squad for the last two internationals and he is back. Why the change of heart?

Stephen Keshi: Victor Moses is very influential in this team but like I've always said, if any player is not giving me what I want, one hundred percent, I will drop you. I don't care who you are.

During the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil, I had a heart to heart chat with Moses and I told him the gospel truth about his game.

I told him he is not doing well and playing as well as we all know he's capable of.

I told him he was not helping his image, his reputation or his career. I told him he had to go back and re-examine himself.

He has taken my advice because since he joined Stoke City, he's been on fire. We all see what's he's doing in the Premier League and against Queens Park Rangers last week, he was the man of the match.

He's a young kid but he's beginning to grow and mature. All Moses needs is someone to direct him and that's why I am here for him and the rest of my players.

I am looking forward to seeing him in Abuja in the next few days. You dropped Emmanuel Emenike for the first 2015 Afcon qualifier against Congo because you were angry with him for reporting late to camp.

Stephen Keshi: I was not the only one angry with Emmanuel. All his teammates were angry with him.

I am a very disciplined person and I took that decision because the rules are the rules.

I never look at a player's reputation. You must be disciplined or you have no place in my team because without discipline, you can never achieve success.

Next week, I am sure he will come on time. If he does not come on time, I will do the same thing again. You have been working without a contract since the 2014 World Cup ended.

Stephen Keshi: I have mixed feelings about this. I am a professional coach and can coach anywhere I want but on the other hand this is my country we are talking about.

Everyday, I get people pleading with me and asking me not to leave. There are also people who insult me and say I no longer have anything to offer.

These things happen. I listen to the positive things because I know that in life, there are people who will never appreciate you irrespective of what you do.

It's not easy working without a contract but I know that in life, everything is not about money.

Yes, I need money to pay the bills and take care of my family but in the end putting smiles on the faces of my people is the ultimate. Thanks Big Boss for your time.
Stephen Keshi: You are always welcome, Sam, and let me use this medium to tell Nigerians not to lose faith in this team.

We will continue working hard and I am very sure we will qualify for the Nation's Cup next year.

All we ask is that they continue praying for us.