Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi says in this interview with DAVID MESHIOYE in Calabar that Nigeria will not fall to the Bafana Bafana in today’s game as he explained why he did not start Emmanuel Emenike against Congo last Saturday. The Big Boss also blamed the players for the 3-2 home defeat but was confident necessary corrections would be made before the match against South Africa.
How would you react to the 3-2 defeat suffered on Saturday in Calabar?
With all due respect to the Congolese team, they are not a bad team but they are not the kind of side that should beat us, but that is football and you never can tell what is going to happen in a game. In the first half, we didn’t do much, in the second half we became aggressive and that is what we should have done in the first half. We were doing the playing while they were scoring the goals. Also, the referee played a role in the defeat but there is nothing I will say now that will change the decision he made in the match. It is part of the game.
Nigerians have pin-pointed wrong selection as a major factor behind the defeat. The presence of Uche Nwofor at the expense of Emmanuel Emenike was a surprise choice. What is your reaction to this?
I hate it when someone doesn’t exhibit discipline. We have individual discipline and what we call team discipline. Emenike did what he did but we did not like it, not just me but the entire team. The agreement was that no matter what, every player should be in camp by Tuesday morning but he came to the camp on Wednesday evening and had just two training sessions before the match. I had this player ( Nwofor) in camp since Monday training with the team. I didn’t like the way he came late to camp and I told him that I like him as a person, I like him as a football player but if he wants to do it that way, then we are going to have problem. The rest of the players were not happy so I had to start the player (Nwofor) who has been training with the team since we opened camp.
South African seem to be ready to end Nigeria’s decade of dominance after picking three points and three goals against Sudan. How worried are you Big Boss?
Each game is different; Sudan vs South Africa and South Africa vs Nigeria are two different games. We are aware of what is at stake and we will see what happens on Wednesday.
You look relaxed Big Boss, how confident are you against Bafana Bafana?
Yeah, it is a big game and South Africa is a good side too. The South African team is getting better now and if you look at most African countries now, you will see that they are emulating Nigerian system; trying to bring up the young ones. That is what most of them are doing and South Africa is not exempted; they want to use the young ones they have to get the AFCON ticket. It is okay and we are going to be ready for them. We have seen them played and they have also seen us played as well so we will see what happens in Cape Town.
If you will be honest with Nigerians, would you say that you missed a particular player against the Red Devils of Congo on Saturday?
No, i just wanted to work with the players I had in camp for the match. I needed to motivate them and give them the confidence they needed to believe in themselves. I needed to let them know that they can do it. I don’t want to think about the players that were not available. If you are on ground, I will work with you and that is what I believe as a professional.
Can you explain why Joel Obi was not dressed for the match and what prompted your decision to field Onazi, Ramon and Mikel in the match?
This is AFCON qualifiers and not World Cup; we can only dress fifteen players in a match. And again, Joel Obi reported late with Emenike and I don’t see myself bending the rules because of anybody. If I am going to be honest and act as a professional coach, I would never have taken Nosa out for Joel. Nosa has been in camp since Monday working hard for the match. Every player must respect the rules.
Would you say Enyeama’s absence affected the team in any way and more so, what did you tell Ejide before and during the match?
Yeah, he listened to my correction. You see, that is the biggest problem we have in this country; once a player did not play well in a match, we want to kill him; we want to ridicule him that he is not good enough to be in the national team. Ejide did what he could do and that is it. What were the defenders and midfielders doing? I don’t think he has a problem, the problem is with the entire team and we have to work on that. Besides, people failed to realize that the players have not been together since after the World Cup. And if you look at the Congolese team, most of them are home based players who have been working with the coach for a while now. Only few professionals joined the team and it worked for them. This is the kind of work I was doing here until they stopped it and said they don’t want home based players but professionals. It is going to cost Nigeria a great deal. It is going to cost us if we don’t have home based players on ground.
Any injury concern as Nigeria face South Africa in Cape Town? What is Oboabona’s status as regard injury?
Football is a contact sport, he may have had one or two contacts on the field but it is not something serious that we need to worry about. We are good to go against Bafana.