NIGERIA'S HEAD COACH STEPHEN KESHI REACTS DURING THEIR TRAINING SESSION IN NELSPRUIT, SOUTH AFRICA, THURSDAY JAN. 24, 2013, AHEAD OF THEIR AFRICAN CUP OF NATIONS GROUP C SOCCER MATCH AGAINST ZAMBIA ON FRIDAY. (AP PHOTO/THEMBA HADEBE)
NELSPRUIT, South Africa - With the expectations of millions of fans weighing on his shoulders, Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi's burden is a little lighter with the return of playmaker Victor Moses ahead of Friday's clash with Zambia at the African Cup of Nations.
Keshi spoke on Thursday of the difficulties involved in guiding Nigeria, whose fans anticipate success at big tournaments even if the Super Eagles have not lifted a trophy since their African Cup triumph in 1994.
That victory came during a golden period for Nigerian football, which saw them regularly compete for top honours on the world stage.
Keshi, the captain in 1994, hopes to lead Nigeria back to those former glories, and welcomed Moses after the Chelsea midfielder missed the 1-1 draw with Burkina Faso on Monday.
"He's been training well since after the game against Burkina Faso, so hopefully he's going to be intact for tomorrow," Keshi said.
Nigeria lacked incision in that game, dominating possession but failing to create clear-cut opportunities, for which they paid a heavy price when the Burkinabes equalized in stoppage time.
The return of Moses, who took full part in training on Thursday, should add some invention to the youthful team that Keshi is attempting to build for the future.
"In Nigeria, for years we have had a standard in African football and in world football, and Nigerians relate that to those years when we had a wonderful time in football," he said. "I don't blame them. We still have that, but to reach that level again we need to build and develop to get there.
"I've never seen a house built in one day. It takes a while. We want to start that process tomorrow, but it's difficult because everybody wants to tell you who to play, and who not to play. If you ask 10 Nigerians, they will give you 10 different lineups, so what do you do?
"You just do what you think is best for the team and the country. It's not that easy, but we're working on it."
Keshi captained Nigeria during the 1994 African Cup campaign in Tunisia, where Friday's opponent Zambia was beaten 2-1 in the final.
The skipper tasked with repeating the feat at this tournament, Joseph Yobo, recalls the jubilation that the victory sparked back home.
"I was about 14 years old and I remember the win, the celebrations on the street, which always happens when Nigeria wins," he said.
"But that was a long time ago. Now Zambia are defending champions so it's going to be a special game tomorrow."