In a career spent achieving almost all there was to be grabbed by an African footballer/coach, some of Stephen Keshi’s feats still stood out
By: Sammie Frimpong
Stephen Keshi, the great Nigerian ex-footballer and coach, passed away on Tuesday aged only 54, and the tributes celebrating his life have since flowed thick and fast. Keshi proved highly successful and, going through his scrapbook, a few memories do claim a special place. Here are the five which wouldn’t be forgotten in a hurry:
WINNING AFCON ’94
It had been 14 years since Nigeria won the Nations Cup, a period during which they lost all of three contested finals. It wasn’t till 1994, in Keshi’s 13th and penultimate year as a Super Eagle, that the jinx was broken. Keshi, then a stalwart centre-back, certainly was instrumental — and he didn’t need the armband to prove that much, though it hardly hurt that he bore it at the time. Leading arguably his country’s most gifted group of footballers, Keshi shone en route to glory in Tunisia — yet he and his teammates were hardly finished for that golden year.
REACHING USA ’94
Two months after conquering its continent, Nigeria took on the world for the first time and, again with Keshi leading the charge, caused quite a stir. The West Africans topped a group that included, among others, Diego Maradona’s Argentina, and were eventually only outdone by an extra-time Roberto Baggio penalty against Italy in the first knockout round. Though relatively subdued and limited to just a game at the showpiece due to injury, the ‘Big Boss’ oversaw it all with his larger-than-life presence.
TOGO REACHING GERMANY 2006
Africa presented four new countries to the world for the 2006 Mundial, but none among that fresh quartet rocked the status quo quite as hard as tiny Togo did. He who got them there was Keshi, a man from a nation two slots to Togo’s east on the African map. Ultimately, Keshi failed to get to the event as punishment for underwhelming (even by Togolese standards?) at that year’s Nations Cup, but his point had surely been made — and, anyway, the world would still be his playground someday soon.
ANGOLA 4-4 MALI
There have been scores of great games in Nations Cup history, but a particular match stands out for producing one of the sport’s greatest comebacks: Angola 4- 4 Mali, Angola 2010. Tournament openers don’t always get us falling off our seats for the most exciting reasons, but this one really did provide a giant spark. The hosts took a commanding 4-0 lead within 74 minutes, only to be pegged back by Mali goal-by-goal before full-time. It all seemed surreal as the Eagles cancelled out the bunch of Angolan strikes but, then again, it really was little surprise that they had Keshi on the bench masterminding the stunning recovery. Keshi’s charges never made it out of the group — falling on the wrong side of a tie-breaker with Algeria in the end — but they certainly rippled the ocean and held the memory hostage forever and a day.
WINNING AFCON 2013
Doubtlessly Keshi’s finest moment as a coach, there could be no greater honour than guiding his beloved Nigeria to Afcon glory, in 2013, nearly two decades after doing so as skipper. That achievement slotted him comfortably beside Egypt legend Mahmoud El-Gohary as the only men to win African football’s most coveted piece of silverware as player ad coach. If it’s going to be Nigeria’s last — and they seem to do so well at getting close without actually winning it — they’d sorely miss the man who made it possible. Heck, they still would even if it isn’t, so great is Keshi’s legacy!