Stephen Keshi

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Former Nigeria captain and coach Stephen Keshi dies at 54

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Stephen Keshi, Nigerian soccer’s charismatic and outspoken “Big Boss” who won African Cup titles as both captain and coach of his country, died early Wednesday. He was 54.

Keshi, one of only two men to win the African Cup of Nations as a player and a coach, died after being rushed to the hospital in Benin City in southern Nigeria late Tuesday night, the Nigerian Football Federation said.

“This is devastating. We have lost a superhero,” NFF president Amaju Pinnick said in a statement.

The federation said Keshi died of suspected heart problems and was experiencing an irregular heartbeat and pain in his legs when he was taken to the hospital. He was preparing to fly back to his home in the United States.

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Keshi had lost his wife to cancer late last year.

The South African and Ghana federations, and English club Chelsea, were among those to pay tribute to Keshi.

Keshi captained Nigeria to the African Cup title in 1994 and was coach when Nigeria won again in 2013. He also coached the Togo and Mali national teams. He had immediate success when he turned his hand to coaching, guiding Togo to the World Cup for the first time in 2006.

Although he brought success back to Nigeria, his time in charge of his home nation was marked by disputes with his NFF bosses. But Keshi was so popular that former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan once personally intervened to make sure he remained as national coach.

As a tall, heavily-built central defender, Keshi led Nigeria’s golden age of players to the African Cup title in Tunisia in 1994 and to the brink of the World Cup quarterfinals the same year in the United States. That team contained the likes of Finidi George, Jay-Jay Okocha, Sunday Oliseh and Rashidi Yekini.

“Horrible news & Sad day as Our legendary Captain & brother Stephen Keshi dies,” Oliseh, Keshi’s former teammate and successor as Nigeria coach, wrote on Twitter. “We lost an iconic Hero 2day.”

When Keshi and Nigeria won in South Africa in 2013, he was the first black African coach in two decades to claim victory at the continental championship. A big believer in giving African talent a chance, Keshi then criticized national federations for continually hiring foreign coaches and not giving African coaches a chance.

Sometimes his love for his country and his continent went a little too far: When Malawi’s Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet expressed safety fears over playing a qualifying game in Nigeria in 2013, Keshi took the criticism of his country personally and got himself in trouble by calling Saintfiet a “crazy white dude.”

Stephen Keshi sacked as Nigerian national team coach

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Stephen Keshi is officially out as manager of the Nigerian national team.

The former Super Eagles boss came under fire recently when his name was on a shortlist of candidates for the vacant Ivory Coast managerial position, despite being under contract with Nigeria.

[ RELATED: 2015 Copa America awards ]

While Keshi claimed an agent entered his name for the Ivory Coast job without his knowledge, it wasn’t enough to keep his post.

Below is a section of the statement released by the Nigerian Football Federation:

Having thoroughly reviewed the reports/findings of the NFF Disciplinary Committee and NFF Technical and Development Committee, as well as having reviewed the actions and inactions of Mr. Stephen Keshi, in the performance of his duties as Super Eagles’ Head Coach, which we found to lack the required commitment to achieve the Federation’s objectives as set out in the Coach’s employment contract.

To this end and pursuant to the provisions of Clause 4.3 of the Employment Contract between Mr. Stephen Keshi and the NFF (The Contract) and the various clauses therein, the Nigeria Football Federation has decided to exercise its option to summarily terminate the employment contract of Mr. Stephen Keshi with the Federation with immediate effect.”

Keshi is an accomplished manager, the only man to lead two different African nations to a World Cup, doing so with Togo and Nigeria. Despite his success, he has always had off the field issues with the federations, having three separate stints as manager for both of those countries.

He won the Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria as a player in 1994 and led the Super Eagles to the title as a manager in 2013. The day after the title win in 2013, Keshi resigned. The day after that, he reversed his decision and said he wanted to stay.

Is Keshi actually gone for good this time? Who knows.

Add Nigeria’s Stephen Keshi to the list of coaches unhappy with officiating

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Contrary to what we usually heard after matches, there is no law that requires head coaches to criticize officiating after their teams are eliminated from the World Cup. It’s just a natural, organic, but mostly petty way of saying goodbye to the biggest sporting event of the world. If you made a list of men who speak up about the officiating in the knockout round, it would correspond nicely to the bosses who’ve seen their teams sent home.

Take Miguel Herrera. The Mexico head coach saw his team eliminated yesterday after the Netherlands’ Arjen Robben dived exaggerated contact in stoppage time of his team’s Round of 16 victory. After the match, Herrera confronted referee Pedro Proença and eventually argued that the Portuguese official shouldn’t have given the call. Given the nature of Rafa Márequez’s foul, however, the World Cup knockout round isn’t the only place where Robben would have drawn a whistle. Blame Robben if you want, but El Tri‘s captain did, after all, step on Robben’s foot.

Keshi’s issues with Monday’s officials are far more trivial. The Nigeria boss derides a first half offside call that replays showed was correct, while his other complaints are your regular, run-of-the-mill appeals for cards. In other words, there’s nothing new here, though Keshi does go so far as to call Major League Soccer official Mark Geiger “biased.”

From reporting by The Guardian, after France’s 2-0 win eliminated the Super Eagles:

“I am not happy with the officiating because Onazi, on two occasions, he had a very bad tackle and nothing was done by the referee,” Keshi said. “I think the referee was just … for me, I think he was biased. This is the first time I will speak about the referee in my life as a coach but it wasn’t good.

“If you look at the goal we scored, I don’t think there was any infringement. The referee is a human being, bound to make some mistakes, but a lot of mistakes is questionable. I am not happy about it but he’s the man who decides whatever goes on the pitch.”

If you want to say Geiger made mistakes, fair enough. We all see the game in different ways. If you want to call him biased, however — in this case, predisposed to ruling against Nigeria — that’s out of line. It only furthers the notion that Keshi’s thoughts are just paranoid sour grapes, derived from an attitude that may have blamed the officials, regardless.

It’d be too much to ask coaches to see games through an objective lens, but that’s another reason why we shouldn’t take anything they say post-match too seriously. Not only is it not their job to be impartial, but they have an incentive to depict officials as acting against them. After all, it’s much easier to explain losses in a world where outcomes are beyond your control.


Game on: Lineups and more as Nigeria, Iran tangle in Group F

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The match between Nigeria and Iran may be less anticipated than other matches, but it doesn’t change the drama of the World Cup, does it? Kicks off at 3pm ET;

[ MORE, PreviewsIran | Nigeria | Group F ]
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Starting lineups

Iran: Haghighi, Heydari, Haji Safi, Hosseini, Sadeghi, Nekounam, Timotian, Montazeri, Ghoochannejad, Dejagah, Pooladi

Nigeria: Enyeama; Ambrose, Omeruo, Oboabona Oshaniwa; Onazi, Mikel; Musa, Azeez, Moses; Emenike

Talking points

1. Nigeria can’t afford to be worrying about Argentina and Bosnia & Herzegovina? Head coach Stephen Keshi needs these three points, and his team cannot take them for granted.

“For the Iran game we have to be focused. We have to concentrate and do our job. We’re not going to take Iran lightly because they’re not going to take us lightly. So we have to go out with everything that we have. This squad is probably a year-plus old, it’s a new team. Most of the players are young.”

2. Does massive tournament underdog Iran have it in them? Will they be overwhelmed, or perhaps be too naive to be worried by the stage? Here’s Iran assistant coach, American Dan Gaspar (read more about him here).

“”We have worked incredibly hard,” Gaspar said. “We are not a team of stars, we are a team that is humble and willing to sacrifice and suffer to earn the best possible result with the abilities we have.”

Expectation: Nigeria will press Iran, which will hope to keep the space between them to a minimum. Tight-marking that could get boring if a goal doesn’t come early.

One blogger’s prediction: Nigeria eventually breaks Iran down, but Ashkan Dejagah finds a moment of brilliance on the counter. 3-1, Nigeria.

World Cup injury list grows as Nigeria’s Echiejile ruled out

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Nigeria have confirmed that defender Elderson Echiejile will miss the World Cup. The 26-year-old picked up an injury in Nigeria’s goalless draw with Greece on Tuesday, and was forced off before the interval.

Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi said: “Doctors have said Echiejile will need up to three weeks to recover from the muscle tear but we don’t have that type of time to play with so we’ve taken the decision to replace him.”

Elderson will be replaced by winger Ejike Uzoenyi, who plays for domestic side Enugu Rangers. Uzoenyi was on Keshi’s preliminary roster, but cut from the 23-man squad.

Nigeria did receive some good news, however. Kenneth Omeruo, who picked up an ankle injury in a collision with a teammate at a training session last week, sat out the 2-1 loss to the United States on Saturday. However, he will be fit for the first match of the group stages.

The Super Eagles face Iran in Curitiba on Monday, June 16. Their other opponents in Group F are Argentina and Bosnia and Herzegovina – not an easy group to emerge from, and one Nigeria certainly would’ve liked to be at optimal health for.