By CHIMAOBI UCHENDU
After the Super Eagles qualified to play in the quarterfinals of the ongoing Nations Cup in South Africa and it was scheduled that the Nigerian team would face the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire at this stage on Sunday, tongues began to wag with doubts that Eagles might not have the strength to soar above the Elephants when both teams meet to vie for the semi-final ticket.
Super Eagles’ Coach, Stephen Keshi, has, however, waved the Elephants’ threat aside and said that all the noise about Cote d’Ivoire beating Nigeria to the semi-final ticket would die after 90 minutes of hostilities on Sunday. Keshi said that Nigerian football had always run on the backs of strong oppositions and the game against Cote d’Ivoire would not be an exception.
He urged Nigerians to disregard whatever mistakes his boys must have made in their previous matches en route to the quarterfinal of the ongoing Nations Cup in the Rainbow Nation, and promised to create a different mentality against the Didier Drogba-led Elephants when the encounter gets underway.
“Cote d’Ivoire can’t stop Nigeria,” Keshi stated. “It’s a disservice to our fatherland to imagine that they would stop us at this stage of the Nations Cup. “I can’t deny the fact that the Ivoirens have quality players, who can wreck any team, but we must not forget the fact that our players can compete with them in all departments. The game with Cote d’Ivoire would be a different ballgame, which we have to face with a different mentality. It’s not going to be like the match against Ethiopia or any other.
I’ve been waiting for so long to make Nigerians all over the world happy,” the coach said. The former Nigerian captain hinted that his players would not entertain any fear while facing the Elephants. “Playing against Ivory Coast would be a different ballgame and we have to approach it with a different mentality. Everything about that game would be different.
It would be different from the preparations we made for the games against Zambia, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia,” Keshi said. “We have no problem, it’s a game of 90 minutes and we have to face it squarely,” he added. The coach praised the effort of Enugu Rangers’ midfielder, Sunday Mba, who made his first start in the tournament against Ethiopia.
“Mba was wonderful. He played so well and I’m happy for him. We’re trying to introduce young players who can learn from (John Obi) Mikel, (Joseph) Yobo and (Vincent) Enyeama. We’re not just looking at the Cup of Nations, but how to build a formidable team for Nigeria in the next five years,” Keshi said. In the same vein, Chelsea midfield, Mikel, said that Eagles have an opportunity to put their feet down for the Africa Cup of Nations on Sunday. “It’s been great for us qualifying (for the tournament) because last time we couldn’t make it. Now the coach demands that any player who wants to play for the country must give 110 per cent of his effort to the game,” Mikel said.
“We’re here to do exactly what the coach wants us to do and to play well for Nigeria and I think it’s fantastic. “We’re now in the quarterfinals, we just have to keep going and hopefully, we will defeat Ivory Coast and go to the semi-finals. It’s going to be difficult, but we’ll make it.” Mikel rated the game against Ethiopia highly.
“I think the game against Ethiopia was really tough, but we knew that they would come into the game looking for victory. We knew they would fortify their midfield. That was why we avoided the middle during the match play.
He continued: “They didn’t give me any space. I had one or two people running behind me throughout the game. It was tough, but sometimes I tried to create space for myself. “It was difficult for both teams, but that was what one should expect at that stage of the competition.” Nigeria’s Super Eagles will take on the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire in a big West African duel in Sunday’s quarterfinal encounter in Rustenburg.