Big Boss’ Stephen Keshi will take the first step as new Nigeria coach Saturday in a friendly against Botswana in Benin City.
The 49-year-old Keshi sparked off the exodus of Nigerian players to Belgium when he moved to Anderlecht in the 80s.
He was also international skipper when Nigeria made their World Cup debut in 1994 and also won a second Africa Cup of Nations title same year.
Soon after those feats, Dutch coach Clemens Westerhof predicted that the big central defender will succeed him as Nigeria coach and this forecast has finally come to pass 17 years later.
Keshi qualified Togo to the 2006 World Cup in Germany and also handled Mali.
He was assistant coach when the Eagles qualified for the 2002 World Cup.
His immediate task now is to lift the team above the huge disappointment of not reaching next year’s Nations Cup amid suggestions that the players’ attitude is wrong.
“They showed good attitude this morning and the same thing this evening,” remarked Keshi after his first training Wednesday.
“I think they’re beginning to change their mindset, they want to do something right this time and we just have to help them and be patient.
“These guys are not from Jupiter, they’re human beings like us. It’s not that they can’t make mistakes. We all make mistakes, it’s just that we have to learn from our mistakes.
“Right now, what they’re doing is very encouraging.”
Team captain Joseph Yobo said ‘Big Boss’ has impressed the players with his knowledge and experience.
“He is a legend in Nigeria, a great defender and someone who the players and officials respect a lot,” said the Fenerbache defender.
“He has shown us that he knows what he is doing and together with him, we hope to try to rebuild the trust of Nigerians in this team.”
For Africa Cup newcomers Botswana, they will get a taste of things to come when they face the Eagles on the artificial pitch of the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City.
Botswana coach Stanley Tshosane has said this Nigeria is just the kind of friendly he has been craving for before the West African treat that awaits them in Group D at the Nations Cup in January.
Group D houses Mali, Guinea and Ghana, the latter Botswana will play in their opening tournament game on January 24 in Franceville, Gabon.
“I’m happy that Nigeria have announced a strong squad for the game as it will help us a lot,” Tshosane said. “I believe we will learn from them.”
Tshosane has picked a strong 23-man squad to Nigeria, but he will be missing first-choice goalkeeper Modiri Marumo of Bay United in South Africa as he is injured.
Therefore second goalkeeper Noah Maposa of Gaborone United is set to stand in for Marumo
Also missing will be key midfielder Dirang Moloi. Moloi has been between clubs and he is currently embroiled clearance battle with ex-club South African club Vasco da Gama to Notwane in Botswana.
However, veteran attacking midfielder Diphetogo Selolwane of SuperSport United will grace the game together with striker Jerome Ramatlhakwana.
Ramatlhakwana, the 2011 CAF Africa Player based in Africa nominee and Botswana’s 2012 Group K qualifiers hero with five goals, makes the team despite being frozen at his South African club Santos
Like his Zebra teammate Moloi, he too is bogged in a want-out scenario with his South African club since the start of the 2011/2012 season.
But Tshosane said while he has fitness concerns over some of his five foreign-based players, the onus is on the team to show against an African giant that they qualified for the Nations Cup on merit.
“This is a big opportunity for my team to shine,” Tshosane offered.
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