JOHANNESBURG, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Nigeria, who embark on a new chapter as they seek to return to past glories at the African Nations Cup, are starting a five-year project which will culminate at the 2018 World Cup, coach Stephen Keshi said.
“This is a team that is in a process to become better over the next five years,” Keshi told reporters ahead of his team’s first match at the tournament on Monday.
“We are not looking at this Nations Cup alone but looking at the World Cup in five years from now. That is why we decided to go with some of the younger players in our squad. I have confidence in them, they have been working hard.”
Among the changes he has made was the controversial dropping of striker Peter Odemwingie, who responded with a series of furious tweets, and leaving out Spanish-based forward Obafemi Martins.
“The youngsters are desperate, they are on fire. It not just for this tournament but it’s a team in a process to become a better side over the next five years,” Keshi said.
The Super Eagles were among the dominant forces in African football a decade ago but their match in Nelspruit on Monday against Burkina Faso in Group C marks their return to the Nations Cup field after embarrassingly missing out on the last tournament a year ago.
That failure led to the appointment of Keshi, who captained the side to their last Nations Cup title in 1994 the year they made a World Cup finals debut in the United States.
“That was a side of character, we played with passion, we loved the game. We were very close, we were brothers,” said Keshi, known as ‘Big Boss’ in his playing days.
”When we were out there we saw nothing that could defeat us. We had the mentality that you cannot beat us.
“Right now it’s different but it is coming back gradually, we are bringing back that mentality that we used to have. We just need more time. I like what I’ve seen from my team but we need time and patience.” (Editing by John Mehaffey)