Nigeria’s Africa Cup on Nations triumph should feel like a vindication for coach Stephen Keshi, who became only the second man to win the African continental championship as both a player and a coach when his Super Eagles beat Burkina Faso, the Cinderella story of the tournament, 1-0 in Sunday’s final.
Keshi, whose self-described style is “to close my eyes and ears to everybody else and do it my way,” became coach of the Super Eagles less than 18 months ago, but right from the start, he left his mark: gone were the likes ofYakubu Aiyegbeni (Guangzhou),Peter Odemwingie (West Bromwich Albion), Obafemi Martens (Levante) andTaye Taiwo (Dynamo Kyiv) and anyone else he deemed to be detrimental to the squad mentality. Even Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel, Nigeria’s best player of the tournament, was briefly omitted last year. Instead, Keshi added six players from Nigeria’s domestic league to the squad, including Sunday Mba, who scored the winner in the final. The result, captainJoseph Yobo said: “the unity was very strong.”
At the outset of his tenure, Keshi was heavily criticized for his team selection, but now it looks like a stroke of genius. "Winning this tournament is a melody for my nation," Keshi said. "I came on board nearly a year-and-a-half ago and my dream was to make Nigerians happy. … I want to dedicate this to all Nigerian coaches who were praying for this team. This is not for me alone.”