By Onochie Anibeze
Stephen Keshi is aware of the accolades back home over the performance of the local Eagles in their international friendly match against Egypt last Thursday in Dubai.
Eagles lost 3-2 but the local boys reportedly held it up strongly until two minutes into stoppage time when they fell to the crisp passes of the Egyptians and conceded a goal in the match full of dramatic.
Eagles led 1-0 before Egypt equalized and went ahead to lead 2-1. Eagles later equalized but conceded the stoppage time goal that handed Keshi his first defeat.
“We lost to experience but I was really impressed by the performance of the players,” Keshi said of the match. He spoke from his US base where he returned immediately after the match. He is on short vacation and will, later this month, return to continue his work in Nigeria.
“What impressed me most was their confidence on the ball. They were calm and knocked the ball so well that you wouldn’t believe they were just playing their third match. That gave me so much hope. When we were 2-1 down they fought back to
equalize. I liked the fighting spirit that I saw in them. They were calm when they needed to be and attacked when it was necessary. But that experience was missing.
There were times they needed to keep on going forward rather than pass the ball around. Another thing was their finishing. They created chances and should have taken the game if they were good in converting chances.
But I’m happy with what I saw. Aboutrika asked me how many professionals were in the team and I told him that they were all local players.
He said ‘what?’ Their coach, Bob Bradley asked how long I had kept the team and I told him less than six months and he said that Nigeria would be the team to watch out for soon. We are no where near what I want the team to be like. We’ll continue to work hard for the journey is still far.
But one is being encouraged by what the boys are doing. We lost but the Nigerians who came to watch were dancing after the match. They liked what they saw.
But we are still far from what I want the team to be. We’ll get there. I hope that the federation gets us many more friendly matches. We need them.
“We’ll always blend local and foreign-based players when the qualifiers start but one is happy that the local ones are improving. We are on course.”