Confederations Cup - Keshi seeks to steer Nigeria under radar again

Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi hopes his side can fly in stealthily under the radar and surprise at the Confederations Cup - just as they did when winning this year's African Nations Cup.

Reuters
Confederations Cup - Keshi seeks to steer Nigeria under radar again
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Stephen Keshi, Nigeria (Reuters)

Keshi says a hectic schedule of matches over the last fortnight means he has hardly had time to think about the eight-team tournament, which starts in Brazil on Saturday, but he hopes to repeat their exploits in South Africa.

There Keshi's youthful and inexperienced side attracted little of the pre-tournament attention usually accorded the Super Eagles and were given little chance by the pundits.

Nigeria had been through some lean times and were in a rebuilding process, yet caused a surprise as they won a worthy title to qualify to represent Africa in Brazil.

"We are not a team that is loud. We try to focus on what we are coming to do and then take it from there," says a laconic Keshi, toothpick in mouth and lounging on a hotel sofa in an interview with Reuters.

Before the Nations Cup kicked off in January, Keshi insisted his was a side still in a building phase at the start of a five-year plan focused on the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

"It's a little of psychology with my players, trying to let them feel they have the potential but they must still work hard and be at the top of their game to get where we want to be."

Nigeria will arrive in Brazil after an exhausting three weeks in which they have criss-crossed continents, starting off with a brief training camp in Germany, playing Mexico in a friendly in Texas, then travelling to Kenya and Namibia for World Cup qualifiers on successive Wednesdays.

It means there has been little time to plan for their Brazilian expedition, were they play minnows Tahiti first on Monday, followed by Uruguay and world champions Spain.

"We have not been able to look that far ahead but these things take care of themselves," suggests Keshi with an air of a devil-may-care attitude.

"We are happy as a team to be at the tournament and we know we'll learn a lot. But my players all know about Xavi and Iniesta and how they play, and I don't really need to go on a lot of planning for that."

Keshi said that the door was still open for new players despite the Nations Cup success.

"If I see a new, quality player, I'll bring him in. You never stop building. I'm just 15 months in the job and it's not like I've had the players together for a long time," he said.

Though still a largely inexperienced squad, Keshi has great faith in his players.

"I know what these players can do. I know each player's confidence, his preparation, his condition," he said.

"Others might see them as 'no-names' and therefore see it as a risk but they all know that I have strong belief in them.

"I'm looking for intelligence and a work ethic on the field. I also like to have a fire burning inside my players, the feeling that they don't want to lose. Mostly, though, I want them to enjoy the game."

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