AFOCN 2013: Group C Focus - Nigeria coach Keshi facing make or break
When captain Joseph Yobo leads out Nigeria to play Burkina Faso in Nelspruit, not only will it mark the Super Eagles’ return to Africa Cup of Nations competition after missing out on last year’s tournament, but it will also be the start of an important period for the country’s football.
Coach Stephen Keshi has spoken of a faith in Nigerian youth, and of targeting the 2018 World Cup more than this year’s edition of the Africa Nations. His sentiments are reflected in the make-up of the squad - Yobo, 32, is the only player included over the age of 30, the only outfield player with more than 50 caps and the leader of a group of players mostly in their mid-20s.
Even John Obi Mikel, a Champions League winner with Chelsea, has fewer than 50 caps to his name, while Keshi caused controversy by leaving out West Bromwich Albion striker Peter Odemwingie and former Inter and Newcastle forward Obafemi Martins. Instead, Keshi’s faith rests with Ahmed Musa, from CSKA Moscow, and Ikechukwu Uche, the Villarreal striker.
Together, Musa and Uche have little more than 60 caps and 20 goals between them, while the other three forwards in the travelling party, Ideye Brown, Emmanuel Emenike and Victor Moses, have yet to reach a total goal tally of five, and none of them is in double figures for caps.
Keshi has however been adamant that Nigeria are in a re-building phase, looking five years down the line to ensure Nigeria are present at the World Cup in Russia. He said: “We are not looking at this Nations Cup alone but looking at the World Cup in five years from now.
“That is why we decided to go with some of the younger players in our squad. I have confidence in them, they have been working hard.”
For Burkina Faso, simply winning a match would be a historic achievement. 17 games have come and gone and Les Elatons have not been victorious in any of them, losing 2-0, 2-1 and 2-0 to Angola, Ivory Coast and Sudan a year ago. But Burkina Faso should have both Alain Traore and Aristide Bance available, boosting their hopes of a good start to the tournament a great deal.
The other match of Group C’s first round sees the defending champions, Zambia, meet Ethiopia. Only four countries have won back-to-back tournaments and when you consider Zambia’s triumph last year was itself unexpected, history would suggest consecutive tournament wins to be highly unlikely.
But much the same was said of Zambia’s chances of beating Ivory Coast in last year’s final, but they overturned the odds in dramatic style. At the very least Zambia should be favourites to take an early three points against Ethiopia, potentially setting up progression from the group nicely. If the reigning champions do get past the first stage then, as they proved 12 months ago, anything is possible.
See what the expert tipsters are tipping on OLBG