The Ahmadu Bello Stadium Kaduna was near capacity full when Nigeria hosted Ivory Coast in the first leg, 2014 African Nations Championship qualifier on Saturday, July 6. When the Super Eagles emerged from the tunnel, it was evident that the Stephen Keshi tutored team were out to obliterate the sour memories of the FIFA Confederations Cup from the consciousness of Nigerians.
Their opponents, the Elephants of Cote d”Ivoire were worthy ambassadors of their country as they were to prove moments later.
Super Eagles Head Coach, Stephen Keshi with Home Based Super Eagles at a News Conference at the Eagles’ Camp in Abuja Keshi fielded his strongest eleven and they did not disappoint as they romped to a deserving 4-1 win. Of the lot, however, Afcon 2013 hero, Sunday Mba was again the hero of the day.
After creating the opening goal which was scored by Mohammed Gambo, Mba produced what turned out to be the goal of the match. It all started with a cross from the far right. It rested on Ezekiel Mbah’s head, who dropped it in the direction of his more accomplished colleague, Mba who was lurking in the middle of the pack. Mba chested it down, without allowing the ball drop, with his left foot, he released a cannon that rankled through the entire Ivorian defence and rested on the far corner of the net. It was a goal of the highest class.
The capacity crowd, led by Kaduna State Governor, Mukhtar Ramallan Yero stood to salute the wonder strike. Although the Ivorians pulled one back before the end of the first half, Mba was to score again from the spot soon after the restart after an Ivorian defender handled the ball in the vital area. Ede Benjamin Ifeanyi scored Nigeria’s fourth goal.
Nigeria’s performance was anchored by Keshi’s more experienced Super Eagles quartet of Sunday Mba, Godfrey Oboabona, Azubuike Egwuekwe and Solomon Kwambe. Chigozie Agbim was not stretched on the night because the defence was up and doing. In the heart of the defence was Oboabona, Kwambe and Ekwuekwe. The rookie who gave spectators cause for concern was Benjamin Ishida.
In the midfield, the Ivorians almost dominated except for the two Mbas, Sunday and Ezekiel who combined well to supply passes to the attack which was spearheaded by the much vilified Gambo Mohammed. The young Pillars forward justified Keshi’s confidence in him with two very wonderful strikes, although the second, a header was disallowed by the Malian referee Keshi was to say after the match, “I am satisfied with the performance of my team. Most of them are new and we had just four days’ training.”
He also admitted to the strength of the Ivorians in the midfield and promised to plug the loopholes before the second leg. “We struggled in the midfield that is why I had to leave Gambo for the duration of the match to maintain the pressure on the Ivorians.” The second leg is not going to be easy as the Ivorians showed a lot of fighting spirit. With just nine men playing the second half, all the Eagles could do was to add only one goal to raise their tally to 4. It was thought the Elephants would present the Eagles with the Tahitian scoreline but it was never to be.
“There was nothing wrong,” Keshi defended his wards, saying, “you know African football. It is about physicality. They(the Elephants) fought the battle of their lives to keep the scoreline respectable. You know how difficult it is to play against 10 men or 9 men. Give credit to my players, 4-1 is not a child’s play under any situation.” Speaking on the World Cup qualifier against Malawi in September, Keshi said “I don’t want to think about that for now. I have another life to live; not just football. I have my family life to live.
When the time comes for Malawi in September, we will start thinking about that. Right now I am thinking about how to qualify Nigeria for the African Nations Championship, CHAN, which is very important”. On the growing concern over Victor Anichebe’s response to national duty, Keshi said “If you talk about Anichebe, perhaps, I will say yes.
But I have never met him, I have never spoken to him. I tried to call him but he never picked his call. I made efforts to meet him but with the busy schedule I am having now, it is going to be pretty difficult for me to go to London. Because if I have to go to London, it is not just going to see Anichebe, I will try to see other players too; some of them play in either the Premier League or in the Championship” The former Mali and Togo coach said he was not bothered Eagles drop in the FIFA rankings “I am not bothered about that.
That is not my concern, my concern is to qualify Nigeria for the World Cup, FIF ranking or no ranking. Brazil was 22nd in the world but they went ahead to win the Confederations Cup, so why are we bothered about ranking or no ranking. For me it all boils down to what we do on the field. Our target is clear; to qualify for the World Cup and that is the most important thing to us”.