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Sports

Nigeria's Keshi on edge before crunch Zambia match

media Nigeria's Ahmed Musa and Burkina Faso's Mady Panandetiguiri (R) during their match in Nelspruit, 21 January Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

Nigeria coach Sephen Keshi has urged his nation to be patient with his Super Eagles team as they prepare for their crunch Group C match in Nelspruit. Victory for the Nigerians would put them in pole position to reach the last eight for the first time since 2010. A draw or defeat would inevitably raise doubts about Keshi’s long-term future just over a year after his appointment.

“In Nigeria years back we built up a high standard in African football and in world football,” he says. "Nigerians look back to those years when we had that glorious wonderful football and they still want that and I don’t blame them.

“But to get those days back we need to develop and we don’t want to develop and we want to have it overnight which isn’t done anywhere. I don’t see where they’ve built a house in one day - I’ve never seen it - it takes a while but in our case we want to start today and win tomorrow.”

Pleading for a long term vision thing runs counter to the DNA of the notoriously recondite Nigerian football authorities where internecine politicking frequently undermines progress.

Dossier: Africa Cup of Nations 2013

Nigeria beat Zambia in the quarter-finals in Angola in 2010 but lost the semi-finals to Ghana.

The Nigerian coach Shaibu Amodu was sacked for reaching the last four just six months before the World Cup in South Africa. Lars Lagerback was drafted in for that tournament and promptly relieved of his duties after a disastrous showing in which they finished bottom of their group with only one point from their three matches. Augustine Eguavoen and Samson Siasia came and went within the space of 18 months before the call to Keshi.

“It’s so difficult,” Keshi added. “Everybody wants to tell you who to play and who not to play. Even if you have 10 Nigerians they will give you 10 different line-ups. So what do you do? You close your ears and do what you think is best for the team and for the country.”

In the match against the defending champions, Keshi will be hoping for greater efficiency from his attackers and more composure throughout the side. Emmanuel Emenike gave his team an excellent platform with his goal midway through the first half against Burkina Faso.

Efe Ambrose’s expulsion for a second yellow card 15 minutes from time changed the dynamic of the match. But even with 10 men, Nigeria had at least three excellent chances to double their advantage.

They paid the price for their lack of precision when Alain Traoré swept in Burkina Faso’s equaliser with the last kick of the game.

Anything resembling such sloppiness would provoke questions about 51-year-old Keshi’s ability to galvanise a young team after dispensing with the services of experienced campaigners such as Danny Shittu, Peter Odemwingie and Obafemi Martins.

The former national skipper is staking his reputation on tyros who he believes need the experience for the recreation of those halcyon days of two decades ago.

Even if many Nigerians are living in a time warp, Keshi is well and truly emerged from the vortex.

“Nowadays you can’t differentiate between the teams,” he says. “Once ago you could see ahead of the game who would win and then it was just a question of how many they would score.

“It’s not like that any more. You don’t know what’s going to happen. I think it’s a wonderful thing for African football.”

But not a boon for the coaches of fallen giants.

“It’s so tight now,” he concurs. “You look at Ethiopia and Cape Verde, they are playing wonderful football. It’s difficult to say confidently X is an outstanding team. To know who’s going to win you have to play 95 minutes.”

Ironic that he cites that time - Nigeria were leading Burkina Faso up until then before Traoré’s sucker punch.

Another such blow might lead Keshi’s bosses back into their quick-fix circus.

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