The last time Nigeria won the African Cup of Nations was back in 1994 and they also wowed the world at the World cup same year. The team's captain was Stephen Keshi and he is now in charge of the Super Eagles at South Africa 2013
In an exclusive chat with supersport.com at the team's Faro, Portugal camp Keshi believes that the potential in this team is good enough to match that of the country's last winners of the competition.
"Many Nigerians don't know how good this team is, I see great potentials in them and they can go places". He then added with a clear glint in his eyes that "In Emenike I see a player who can be like Rashidi Yekini and Godfrey Obaobona will grow in his position".
Stephen Keshi as a Player and captain of Nigeria played in 5 tournaments reaching the finals in 3 of them. These experiences should come in handy. "Maybe I might be able to help them handle the expectations. My playing will give me the insight in how to handle the younger players – those just starting out and making their way in the national team"
In the build-up to the camping and even during it Nigerians have been quite critical, as usual and in their views on the team and the squad make up. You wonder how Keshi handles the pressure of coaching a country where millions feel they can do a better job than the man employed for it. "I just make sure I concentrate on the players and make sure they understand and buy into what we want to do. Nigeria is a place that you can never satisfy every person so we just make sure we do our best".
However, it would appear that the team is better prepared unlike previous tournaments lately, and Keshi agrees "we have had no distractions. The NFF have been very supportive and we are just focused on the job at hand"
Since that famous 1994 victory, the team then lost on penalties to Cameroon in the 2000 finals at home, Nigeria has really not come close to winning the competition again. Is there pressure from within the group on the players to win this competition? "I would not put any pressure on my players; my duty is to make them relaxed but with high concentration levels so that they can carry out the tactical plans we have during matches."
As a player Keshi exhibited high levels of patriotism when it came to playing for Nigeria but he is aware that things have changed amongst the players who play for Nigeria. "I loved the attitude of the late Rashidi Yekini when it came to playing for Nigeria – he was always the first to arrive and was willing to do anything for the National team, I loved the man" "the current players are different and it is also the fault of the media who hype players to all levels because of what they do at their clubs when they have played probably 4 or 5 matches for Nigeria. You need to have played consistently for the national team for at least 5 years before you can be called a star".
The build-up to the camp was slightly over shadowed by the absences of the likes of Martins, Odemwegie in the original list. And then later, Shola Ameobi and Danny Shittu who were, pulled out for different reasons. It has not derailed his plans Keshi says. He however admits he dearly would have loved to have Shola Ameobi in there "He would have brought a lot of good things and experience because when he played with us in Miami for the friendly against Venezuela he was a brilliant influence on the pitch and in the dressing room; encouraging the players and saying a lot of the things I would have said and I was so impressed I let him continue. So this young side could have done with that".
Tactically, the Chelsea midfielder Mikel Obi will play in his natural holding role for Nigeria but he would have license to move forward when he sees fit. The former Super Eagles captain and now coach of the team wants Nigerians "to be patient" with his team.
The players all seemed quite relaxed and a few of them were playing pool after dinner while club mates Moses and Mikel took turns to crack jokes with supersport.com on their way out.