At last, the “Big boss”, Stephen Keshi, chief coach of Nigeria’s senior football team, the Super Eagles, has named the 23 players he will be taking to this year’s World Cup tournament taking off June 12 in Brazil. He named his 23 “hungry fighters” on Tuesday from a provisional 30-man list and after an unconvincing 2-2 draw in a friendly against non-World Cup side, Scotland, last week. That was followed by another drab draw against World Cup bound Greece.
The team list is a mix of experience and youthful vitality. The familiar names include old horse Joseph Yobo, now handed his 100th national cup; veteran keeper and Lille of France goal minder Vincent Enyeama, the Chelsea trio of Mikel Obi, Victor Moses and Kenneth Omeruo. Stoke City’s Osaze Odemwingie, who was not a part of the qualification campaign, also made the final cut, and so did dashing winger Ahmed Musa.
The new faces, capped for the first time – the so-called World Cup rookies -are Babatunde Michael, Michael Uchebo, Uche Nwofor and Kunle Odunlami. Asked why he picked them, the “Big boss” explained: “They are good players, they are fighters. They want to prove something, they are hungry. I want players who are hungry, who want to prove themselves”.
A notable exclusion is France based midfielder, Sunday Mba, who played a wonderful game in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa which Nigeria won, its first since 1994. This was how Keshi explained away Mba’s exclusion: “We’ve less than two and a half weeks to the World Cup, he isn’t showing me he wants to be at the World Cup. He is too relaxed; there is no bite, no hunger than to be at the World Cup.
“We’ve players who are hungrier and want to give everything”, he added. The player appears to have taken in good stead. He said he was “gutted” for not making the final team, but hoped that it would post a good result. Very sportsmanlike.
Football loving Nigerians generally have accepted that the buck stops on the gaffer’s table. The decision is his and if the result is good he will reap the reward, if not he alone will take the blame. “Keshi is the coach; Technical Committee members don’t have the powers to influence the team list. It’s the business of Keshi and he would take the credit or blame, depending on what happens in Brazil”, said committee official and former Nigerian international Garba Lawal.
On his expectations, Keshi would not make any predictions, saying only, “We want to go match by match. What I know is that we’ll give it our 120 percent, the rest is in God’s hand”.
On our part, we join millions of our compatriots in wishing Keshi and his wards a fine outing in Brazil to obliterate the disappointment of South Africa 2010 where we failed to make it beyond the group stage.