Stephen Keshi expressed his pride at the performance of his charges in the 2-2 draw with Italy at Fulham Football Club’s compact Craven Cottage.
“We played on saturday, travelled rather quickly, arriving London yesterday(sunday) and playing tonight(monday), I am really proud of the players and the character they displayed”
Nigeria made wholesale changes from the team that brushed aside Ethiopia in Calabar to book a place in next year’s football summit in Brazil. Mikel, Moses, Oboabona and Onazi the starters from Saturday.
The Italians started like a house on fire as Keshi thought they would “we told them that Italy will want to overwhelm us with intricate play and I must admit that initially the players were nervous”
After Italy took the lead instead of the makeshift Nigerian side to cave in they grew in stature “I have always maintained that I have players with great belief in their qualities and they started to show it as that first half wore on”.
Bright Dike and Shola Ameobi got the goals that Nigeria’s play had merited but Stephen Keshi paid tribute to Ogenyi Onazi’s form and general play .
“A lot of people asked me questions why I believed so much in him when I called him into the squad. He has come on greatly in the last one year I have to say, always improving, always demanding for the ball, showing for team mates in trouble and showing high tactical awareness in the heat of the battle. Like many of his team mates he is only going to get better” Keshi said
What was obvious at the start of the match was the difference in physique between both sides with the Italians clearly bigger. The team that Stephen Keshi played for in the world cup back in ’94 were huge physical specimens. So was the coach worried that the team might suffer during the world cup coming up against bigger opponents.
“Not one bit” the AFCON winning coach smiled. “What is paramount is how intelligent a footballer is and I have many intelligent footballers playing for Nigeria currently. They will be fine”
It was a friendly but the match was played at such intensity and pace one will would have thought there was a trophy or points at stake. What has the coach learnt from this game going into the world cup?
“For me it is more about my players getting more confident and being able to express their obvious abilities against the so called big football nations. It is something I keep trying to pass across to them that when they are on the field, they are as good as the opponents sometimes even better. We will not be hiding in Brazil I promise Nigerians that”