Super Eagles’ Head Coach Stephen Keshi is heading for South Africa with his eyes on having another glorious outing as he leads the home- based Eagles to the third edition of the Africa Nations Championship (CHAN), a competition meant for players plying their trades in the local leagues across the continent. Last year, the former Nigerian national team inspirational skipper had it good in South Africa, winning the Africa Cup of Nations in February before capping it up with the Nelson Mandela challenge a few months later.
Against all odds, Keshi and his wards outwitted other teams, made their way to the final where they beat Burkina Faso 1-0 in the final decided on February 10 to emerge African kings for the third time. A few months after, the Eagles were back in South Africa this time for a shot at the Mandela challenge, organised in honour of late South African President Dr Nelson Mandela. At the end of the day, a second half brace from Uche Nwofor gave the Nigerian team a win over the Bafana Bafana of South Africa.
In a few days from now, Nigeria will join 15 other countries to battle for the CHAN trophy. Interestingly, it would be Nigeria’s debut appearance at the championship having failed to qualify for the first two editions. The first edition took place in 2011 with Sudan playing host to the rest of Africa but Tunisia emerged winner after beating Angola 3-0 in the final decided in Merreikh on February 25, 2011. The second edition was held in Cote d’Ivoire in 2009 where Congo DR stunned the Black Stars of Ghana 2-0 in the final played in Abidjan on March 8, 2009 to cart home the trophy.
The Super Eagles are in Group A alongside host nation, South Africa, Mali and Mozambique and would be starting the campaign on January 11 against the Malians at Cape Town Stadium after which the team will face Mozambique on January 15 at the same venue before confronting the host country on January 19.
Only a few players who were in the squad that gave Keshi victories in South Africa last year would be available this time. They include goalkeeper Chigozim Agbim and defender Azubuike Egwuekwe. Although Keshi is not promising the nation cup triumph in the championship, Nigerians would be hoping to see the Big Boss achieve yet another victorious feat just as he did in 2013. The former Togolese national team handler ensured Nigeria started the year 2013 on a good note, leading an unheralded squad to conquer Africa in South Africa. That set the path for a glorious campaign for Nigeria in major football tourney, with the Golden Eaglets rounding it off with a FIFA U-17 World Cup triumph in October in far away United Arabs Emirate (UAE).
It is against this background that Nigerians would be expecting the big boys to steer the ship of the home-based Eagles to another beginning of the year victory, interestingly on the same soil where it all started last year.