By Debo Oshundun
Super Eagles coach, Stephen Keshi has dedicated the 4-1 semi-final victory over Mali at the on-going 2013 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) to all Nigerians.
Keshi told newsmen at the post match news conference at the Moses Mabhida centre, Durban, South Africa, on Wednesday that “Nigeria deserves to play in the final of AFCON after a long absence at the final of the continental football fiesta”.
“I on behalf of the entire team dedicate the victory to all Nigerians. Nigeria has missed playing in the final of the Nations Cup since the Ghana/Nigeria 2000 Nations Cup.
“For so long, the best we have played in the tournament is in the third place. My job is to put a smile on the faces of all Nigerians, I thank God that made it happy today,” Keshi said.
He said the team had a slow start due to fatigue.
“When we started this tournament it was difficult, we are just coming together as a team. In Portugal we work hard to build a team.
“In the first two matches it was difficult due to fatigue, but there is a high level of discipline and concentration in the team, and that was what kept us going,” Keshi said.
He said the team would prepare well for the final at the National Stadium on Feb. 10.
“No matter who we will meet on Sunday for the final, we will prepare well, at this stage our aim is to win the trophy, I have confident in the players,” Keshi said.
He said he only took players with the right mental attitude to the tournament.
“Nigerians did not understand why I left out some of the Nigerian star players. I need players with talents, but what I require most in my players is a strong mentality,” he said.
Keshi said he knows the Malian team team fairly well having coached the team before.
“I know the Malian team, they are very good individual players and as a team. But they are a bit slow, so we take that advantage to attack them,’’ he said.
Malian coach, Patrice Carteron said that there was no relationship between the Nigerian victory and Keshi knowing the team.
“There is no relationship between what happened today and Keshi knowing the team. He only knows some of the players, we played well but lost to a better team,’’ Carteron said.
He said the Super Eagles are good for the trophy if they play with confidence which they displayed against Mali and Cote d’ Ivoire.
“The Nigerian team built up its confidence after beating Cote d’ Ivoire at the quarter-final, if they still display the confidence which they have shown in their last two games, they are good enough for the trophy,’’ Carteron said.
Meanwhile, Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama has said he would hand over the captain arms band to the team captain Joseph Yobo if the team wins the final on Sunday.
“If we win on Sunday Yobo will pick the trophy, he is the captain of the team, I’m just standing in for him. He has work so hard for the Nigerian national team and he deserves to rewarded,’’ Enyeama said.
He is reponsible for the unity in the team and for the success recorded so far.
“It is only God that can make things happen, but as a team we motivate ourselves, we talk to ourselves, we are a team, football is a team game,” Enyeama said.
Nigeria will play the final of the tournament against Burkina-Faso, on Sunday at the National Stadium, Johannesburg.