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Keshi’s death has created big vacuum in Nigerian football, says Okocha

By Gowon Akpodonor
10 June 2016   |   2:00 am
Former Super Eagles captain, Austin Okocha, is still in shock over the death of his former teammate, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi.


Former Super Eagles captain, Austin Okocha, is still in shock over the death of his former teammate, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi.

Keshi captained the Super Eagles to win the African Cup of Nations at Tunisia ’94 and later won the title as Nigeria’s coach at South Africa 2013.

Okocha played alongside Keshi at Tunisia ’94 Nations Cup and USA ’94 FIFA World Cup, which Nigeria participated for the first time and narrowly missed a quarterfinal ticket.

Keshi died in the early hours of Wednesday in Benin City and Okocha feels the vacuum created by his demise will be difficult to fill.

Okocha, who is the chairman of Delta State Football Association, prayed that such a calamity should not visit the Nigerian sports family again, just as he prayed God to grant Keshi’s family the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.

In 1982, Coach Festus Adegboye Onigbinde was handed the task of rebuilding the Eagles following Nigeria’s early exit from the African Nations Cup hosted in Libya, where Keshi scored two goals in the opening match against Ethiopia, a match the Eagles triumphed 3-0.

It was Onigbinde, who made Keshi captain of the new-look Super Eagles and the team under his tutelage qualified for the 1984 Nation’s Cup in Cote d’Ivoire, where Nigeria finished second after losing 1-3 to Cameroun.

Nigeria did not qualify for the 1986 edition of the Nations Cup, but ‘The Big Boss’ retained the team’s captainship to Maroc ’98 Nations. Keshi was not then at Algiers ’90, but came back to lead the Eagles to Senegal ’92 Nations Cup, where the team won the bronze medal.

Although he was not a regular at the Tunisia 1994 African Nations Cup, as Austin Eguavoen took charge of the team on the field of play, Keshi still played a part in Nigeria’s victory.

Keshi was Eagles captain to USA ’94 World Cup and was in-charge till 1995, when he led the team to the Confederations Cup in Saudi Arabia. He then handed the captain’s band to ‘Gentle Giant’ Uche Okechuckwu, who in-turn, retired after the team’s poor performance at France ’98 World Cup.

Uche Okechukwu handed the captain’s band to Sunday Oliseh, who then led the Eagles to Ghana/Nigeria 2000 African Nations Cup and Mali 2002 edition of the championship. Oliseh was banned from the team after the Mali 2002 debacle, thereby paving the way for Austin Jay Jay Okocha to step in as Eagles’ captain.

The dribble master (Okocha) led the Eagles to Korea/Japan 2002 FIFA World Cup, Tunisia 2004 African Nations Cup and Egypt 2006 Nations Cup.