Cape Town – Following his side’s 3-1 demolition of Bafana Bafana in their final group A fixture of the African Nations Championship in Cape Town on Sunday, Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi says a number of his young players have put themselves in contention for a spot in his squad for the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil later this year.
“That’s what I’m really looking (for). Giving these kids the opportunity to play in a tournament like this and if I can pick one, two, three players from this tournament, already they have a little bit of experience,” Keshi said.
“This is the reason why I’m here. Yes, I’m looking forward to that, hopefully we gain two or three players that will make the home-based players proud.”
Christantus Ejike was one of Keshi’s troops who made a real impact, opening the scoring in the 22nd minute against South Africa, before Ifeanyi Ede scored the second from the penalty spot.
The visitors held a comfortable half-time lead before Ejike completed his brace on 64 minutes. Bafana managed to reduce the deficit as Bernard Parker scored from the spot.
The win was enough to see Nigeria safely through to the quarterfinals, having needed nothing short of three points to guarantee a spot in the knockout rounds of the tournament reserved exclusively for players plying their trade locally and not abroad.
The Super Eagles finished the group on six points, leap-frogging the South Africans and one point short of Mali, who advanced as the top side with seven points.
Keshi admitted Nigeria were under pressure to get the victory in their last group outing, following a defeat to Mali in their opening game.
“It’s all about identifying the mistakes we made in the previous match and trying to correct them in the training sessions,” Keshi said.
“Most importantly, it’s for the boys to relax and play their game. Most of us are new, we don’t know each other. We’re just beginning to know each other a little bit.”
The host nation needed only a draw to secure their place in the final eight of the tournament, but Ejike’s early strike sent Nigeria clear and they never looked back, despite both teams ending the game with 10 men.
Red cards were dished out to Nigeria's Solomon Kwambe and Bafana’s Vuyo Mere received his marching orders a minute later.
Keshi denied being under pressure to replace his goalkeeper Chigozie Agbim, who had been heavily criticised ahead of the game for making a host of elementary mistakes in their two previous fixtures.
He complimented his shot-stopper for making several crucial saves to deny the likes of Katlego Mashego, Bernard Parker and Siphiwe Tshabalala.
“There is something we need to realise in this world… nobody’s perfect,” Keshi said.
“We’re bound to make mistakes and we need to carry on and give him that confidence. Mostly when something like that happens 1/8you have to say 3/8 'that okay, he’s made his mistake’.
“Why do you have to punish a person again? He knows he has done it, it happens. If there was pressure, I didn’t see it, nobody talked to me about pressure.
“I believe in my goalkeeper, I believe in my players and I make mistakes, but I have to keep going, I can’t stop. There was no pressure and he had a wonderful game today and I hope he keeps going.”
Nigeria take on the winner of group B, with all four teams Ä
Uganda, Morocco, Zimbabwe and Burkina Faso Ä still in contention to finish top of the group, though Uganda and Morocco look the likelier candidates, and were set to battle it out for the top spot on Monday night. – Sapa