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Rustenburg – Stephen Keshi has hit out at fans of the Nigerian soccer team who have been critical of the Super Eagles' group stage performances in the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) tournament.
“As far as I am concerned, everybody can think what they want to think. We have confidence, we know we are going to do something tangible in this Cup of Nations,” the Nigerian coach said on Friday, ahead of their quarterfinal clash with Ivory Coast in Phokeng on Sunday.
“It is a shameful thing if my nation do not have confidence in their team. If they don't have confidence in their team, it's a big shame to my nation, including me, that they think its' just a walkover for Ivory Coast.
“It's a pitiful thing and if my players hear that, what kind of confidence is that to my players? Just pitiful stuff.”
Nigeria struggled throughout their three group stage clashes, finishing runners-up in Group C, having claimed a victory over Ethiopia before playing to two 1-1 draws against defending champions Zambia and Burkina Faso.
Keshi's side had to rely on two penalties against the Ethiopians, but the former player dismissed critics of the team, claiming that he was under no pressure from the Nigeria Football Association to progress through to the semi-finals.
“I am not under any pressure but I am under 'Stephen Keshi' pressure to do well for Nigeria and to get my title,” he said.
“I have my own personal goals that I would like to achieve and if you want to call that pressure, then that's pressure.
“On paper people say Ivory Coast are going to kill everybody in this tournament, but football is a game of 11 against 11 over 90 minutes.”
The two-time Afcon winners (1980 and 1994) are up against formidable opponents in Ivory Coast, but Keshi was adamant that his outfit could be proud of their run in the tournament thus far and the slight underdogs would work towards putting up a solid performance on Sunday, despite many fans expecting a thumping by the Ivorians.
“I don't like dwelling on the past,” he said.
“We are in the quarterfinals against a team that people claim are the best in Africa right now. If we lose, is that a failure?
“If we go down, I will tell my boys to keep their heads up. We will come out and show quality.
“Nigerians might not take that anyway because they will be excited that we are failing, so it won't be a surprise if we don't win.”
Meanwhile, Nigerian captain Joseph Yobo echoed his coach's sentiments that the Nigerian team would put up a good display, even as their own fans remained pessimistic.
“We all know how football is. Sometimes you don't get what you deserve,” the 32-year-old skipper said.
“There was a lot of expectation before we came here Ä people expect us to do very well, others don't.
“Everybody is entitled to their opinion. We are here now in the quarterfinals, it's a big game, but all we need is the support and prayers of the Nigerian people.
“We have two days before the game is coming up so we don't want to be distracted. I know people have different beliefs about this team but after Sunday's game we will have an answer to that.” – Sapa