RUFAI: ‘EAGLES GOOD FOR THE CUP’
Posted: Feb 09, 2013
Former Super Eagles goalkeeper, Peter Rufai backs Keshi’s team for AFCON conquest
Super Eagles boss, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi is poised to enter the history books by becoming only the second African legend to clinch the prestigeous Nations Cup trophy after the late Egyptian Veteran, Mahmoud Elgohary; both as a player and a coach, when he files out the Nigerian team against their Burkinabe counterparts in the final action of the 2013 Nations Cup in South Africa tomorrow.
Solidly backing the ‘Big Boss’ is none other than former international goalkeeper, Peter Rufai who is confident that Stephen Keshi’s team has all the potentials to go all the way...
Rufai, affectionately nicknamed ‘Dodo Mayana’ by this teeming admirers tells Complete Sports Saturday’s ADEBOYE AMOSU what makes the new Eagles under Keshi a formidable bunch...
Dodo Mayana, the Super Eagles are in the final of AFCON 2013 against all odds. How would you rate the team`s showings so far?
Actually, the performances of the Super Eagles in this Nations Cup have been impressive. When I look at the way we started this competition, I remember the successful Italians in major competitions, You will discover that at the earlier stage, they tend to struggle. In most games, the Italians are outplayed by their opponents but always end up winning by a slim margin.
And you begin to wonder what will eventually become their fate but as the tournament progresses, you see the Italians improve on their showings.
Surprisingly, you will end up seeing them in the final and winning the tournament, like they did at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
What do you think was responsible for the remarkable turn-around in the team`s fortunes?
I want to look at it from three angles. The first is the experiment of Stephen Keshi. He was the skipper in 1994 and knows how the team was built then. He followed the same pattern and things are now working fine for the team.
In the beginning, we were playing well and winning games. But remember, we have seventeen players who are making their debut in the competition and had not played in a major tournament like the AFCON.
In this kind of scenario, the technical crew had to blend the team together. For the first two games, I guess Keshi was trying to get the right pattern for the team.
At that stage, I think he was communicating to the players how he wanted them to play. Luckily for us, he succeeded in doing that. At some point too, the players themselves realized what it means to wear the green and white colours of Nigeria.
The moment they got that tonic, that is, what it means to wear the national colours of our great nation Nigeria, they kept the chemistry and exploded against Cote d` Ivoire and Mali.
A lot of pundits and soccer loving Nigerians initially doubted the Super Eagles ability to fly earlier in the competition. Did you share the same thought?
No, I mentioned the great Italian teams of the past earlier and when you see a team struggle at the initial stage in a competition, you don't need to write them off.
It was clear that the potential was there even though most people didn't see it. That was why I said credit must be given to the technical crew for finally finding the right formation and balance in the team.
Keshi and I played in the national team for years and I never for once doubted his ability to get it right.
Standing before Nigeria and a third AFCON title are the Stallions of Burkina Faso, What are your expectations ahead of this game?
Our prayer is for the Super Eagles to lift the trophy on Sunday, I see the team bringing the Cup home.
The team is now beaming with confidence and with what we saw in the last two games, I am confident our boys will deliver.
What happened to the Malians in the semis is what we call "FOOTBALL MISSILE". We just put them in all departments of the game and I`m expecting same against Burkina Faso.
Let`s talk about the tournament itself now, how would you rate the standard of football from what you have seen so far?
It`s been wonderful. We have seen some surprises, this is to tell us that some countries in the African continent have also developed in terms of quality.
They have improved their standards of play and are ready to challenge heavyweights like Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire and the rest.
You know Egypt and Cameroun didn't even qualify for the tournament . Today countries like Cape Verde and Ethiopia can no longer be referred to as minnows.
Cape Verde showed their qualification ahead of Cameroun was no fluke, by making it beyond the group stage which was against pundits' expectations. Burkina Faso making it to the final is a further testament to the development of football in Africa. I would say what we have seen so far is a good sign for the future.
The North Africans proved to be bad travellers once again, as their three representatives Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco failed at the group stages whereas seven West African countries made it to the quarter finals.
(cuts in) I think the West African nations have woken up from their slumber. The last time a country from the region won was in Tunisia 1994, which incidentally was Nigeria.
Before the start of the competition, nobody believed that Burkina Faso would make it to the semi final, talk less of the final.
This is to tell us how other African countries are working round the clock to ensure they improve their football.
It also tells us Africa is developing football wise. With these other countries coming up, it will make the competition more interesting in future.
Aside from the Super Eagles, which other teams have impressed in the competition?
I think aside the Super Eagles like you mentioned, the other team that impressed in this competition has to be Cape Verde.
The Blue Sharks really impressed me. They played as a team and you could also see high quality technical input, they were formidable and also played as a unit. those boys always followed instructions from their coaches.
Another country that impressed me was Ethiopia. They didn't make it beyond the first round but you could see a sign of consistency in their game plan. They put up courageous displays in the group stage against defending champions, Zambia, Nigeria and Burkina Faso.
What about the players?
When we talk about players, you will see that in those teams where one player is outstanding they didn't perform well. Zambia and South Africa come to my mind here.
Chris Katongo, the captain of Zambia was on everybody's lips before the start of the competition. He was expected to be one of the stars and that day, he failed to live up to expectations. What i`m trying to say is that I don't look at individual performance but that of the entire team.
The teams that have played together as a unit are the ones that have achieved more success.
Going by your A rating of the standard of football displayed by teams in this competition, do you think they are ready to challenge the rest of the world in Brazil 2014?
Yes, they are ready to some extent. but it does not mean we have arrived. We still have a lot of work to do in Africa, in terms of competing with teams from Europe and South America.
Playing at the Africa Cup of Nations is different from the World Cup. You go to World Cup and you are up against quality coaches with deep knowledge of the game as well top class individual players.
The players are well schooled in terms of tactics and technical ability. They have good coaches who map out winning strategies for them and they are intelligent to execute it to the latter.
Do you think home grown coaches can achieve all these things you mentioned?
It`s not about a foreign or local coach. It's about designing a programme that will be up to international standard.
What l`m trying to say is that if the Europeans are doing things the right way, then we can also learn from them and improve on it. If we do that we will reap the benefits. No doubt the game has developed in the continent but we still have so much work to do.
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