From Mumini Alao in Port Alegre:
BEFORE Stephen Keshi was appointed Super Eagles coach, Nigeria had not won the African Cup of Nations for 19 years; had not won a game at the World Cup finals for 16 years and had not qualified for the second round of the tournament for another 16 years.
On Wednesday at the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Keshi completed the scrapping of all three unwanted records by leading the Super Eagles to the second round at Brazil 2014, despite a 3-2 defeat to Argentina. Following his triumph at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and a 1-0 win over Bosnia -Herzegovina at this World Cup, Keshi has now equalled Nigeria’s best records at both the Nations Cup and the World Cup.
Keshi’s arrival as head coach finally ended a run of ‘Golden Bronzes’ for the Super Eagles as he became the first Nigerian and the second African to win the Africa Cup of Nations as player and coach. He had captained the Eagles to the African title in 1994 in Tunisia.
In between the 1994 and 2013 triumphs, the Eagles flattered to deceive, constantly reaching the semi-finals only to fall short at the final hurdle. They won silver in 2000 on home soil, losing to Cameroun on penalties in the final, then consecutive third-place finishes followed in 2002, 2004, 2006 before a quarter-final exit in 2008. They claimed another bronze in 2010, then failed to qualify for the 2012 edition.
Keshi’s largely experimental side changed everything in 2013 when they defied the odds to win the big title, Nigeria’s third, in South Africa.
On the global stage, since the win over Bulgaria that saw Nigeria progress to the second round at France ’98, the team had failed to win a single World Cup, losing to Denmark in the round of 16 that year and failing to win any games in 2002 and 2010.
Then Keshi and his men made history again when they defeated Bosnia Herzegoina Saturday to get to within touching distance of the knockout rounds for the first time in 16 years.
Wednesday’s results confirmed Keshi’s place in history as the Eagles qualified for the round of 16 for the first time since 1998.
If his team comes out victorious against Group C winners France on Monday Keshi will stand alone as Nigeria’s most successful coach ever.
FOR THE RECORD
Stephen Keshi is the first Nigerian-born coach to qualify The Super Eagles for the second round of the World Cup.
Ahmed Musa is the first player to score two goals in a single match for Nigeria at the World Cup.