Rustenburg – After heading into the tie as unlikely contenders, Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi praised his side for a spirited display in their 2-1 Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final victory over Ivory Coast in Phokeng, near Rustenburg, on Sunday evening.
A goal in either half from Emmanuel Emenike and Sunday Mba booked the Super Eagles their spot in the semi-finals while the Ivorians crashed out after entering the tournament as favourites once again.
“I want to sincerely thank my players for everything they did today,” Keshi said.
“The players showed character. It's the kind of character that I know we have in Nigeria. We always fight, fight, fight.
“I had absolute 120 percent confidence in my players and we had to get ourselves ready for the game. We weren't going to come here and just give it to Ivory Coast.”
The Elephants' Cheick Tiote cancelled out the opener from Emenike, but Nigeria-based Mba regained the lead for the west Africans, 12 minutes from time.
“It was not an easy game, we tried to speed the game up. We tried to cut players like (Didier) Drogba and Yaya Toure out of the game,” Keshi said.
“We took our time. We spent four days just studying the way the Ivorians were playing, so we tried our level best.
“When Ivory Coast equalised, we tried to defend well and then we worked our tactics, we pushed our players to play and we scored again.”
Keshi was elated that his team were able to beat the odds and hailed the continued support of the Nigerian fans, who were lively inside the Royal Bafokeng Stadium.
“I also want to thank my nation. The Nigerians that have been behind my team. I hope that we can go to the final,” he said.
“There are a lot of possibilities for this team.
“Before we played against Ivory Coast, nobody gave us a chance, maybe 20 percent of people gave us a chance that we could do something.”
Keshi – captain of Nigeria's victorious 1994 Afcon outfit – added that he was proud of his young side and said he was confident of going all the way in the competition.
“My team is progressing every game, there is great discipline in the team, I just hope that we keep that up,” he said.
“I know that the players we have in our camp are the right boys that I picked. I just have confidence in them.
“There is no one hero in our team, everyone is a hero.”
Nigeria will now shift focus to their semifinal encounter against Mali – who knocked out hosts Bafana Bafana 3-1 on penalties – in Durban on Wednesday. – Sapa