‘Big boss’, fifth Tunisia 1994 hero to exit
The ambassadors of the golden era of Nigeria’s football – the 1994 squad of the Super Eagles that won the African Cup of Nations (ACN) in Tunisia and debuted at the World Cup in the United States same year – were yesterday depleted as death snatched away one of them.
The departed was no other less personality than the Supremo and Libero captain of the side, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, popularly revered as the Big Boss.
The Delta -State born tactician died in the wee hours of yesterday in Benin City, the Edo State capital, making him the fifth person in that era to pass on.
He remained one of the only two people, the other being Egypt’s Mahmoud El-Gohary, to have won the most coveted football diadem on the continent both as a player and coach.
Others that had exited include Uche Okafor; Thompson Oliha; Wilfred Agbonavbare and all-time goal-scorer, Rashidi Yekini.It was an admixture of shock, grief, sadness and adulation when the news frittered in yesterday.
In his response, the President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, who described the demise as devastating, said: “We have lost a superhero,” adding that he had already contacted the family and would lead a delegation to Benin City today.
“The NFF board will meet and decide on the best way to honour Stephen Keshi. We will be fully involved in the arrangements for the final burial rites,” he stated.
Consequently, Pinnick directed all centres hosting the local league matches yesterday to observe one–minute silence prior to kick–off, noting that the NFF had informed the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and FIFA on the passing.
Keshi, who won the African Nations Cup in 1994 as captain of the Super Eagles, also led the team to success in South Africa 2013, a victory that made him only the second person to achieve similar feat after El-Gohary.
The late tactician first played for Nigeria in 1978 when he was called up to the Flying Eagles. In 1979, he was drafted from the Flying Eagles by Coach Otto Gloria to the then Green Eagles alongside Sylvanus Okpalla and Prince Afejuku.
He narrowly missed the 1980 African Cup of Nations (ACN) hosted and won by Nigeria, but returned to the team after the competition, becoming captain of the senior national team shortly after the nation was beaten to the Espana 1982 World Cup by Algeria.
Keshi led Nigeria to five ACN tournaments, wining the Tunisia 1994 edition. He also won the Africa Cup of Nations gold, silver and bronze and led the country to its first FIFA World Cup finals during the summer of 1994.
Reacting to the death, his former teammate, Kenneth Boardman, said: “I just confirmed the death of my brother, friend and teammate, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi. This is painful, shocking and unbelievable.
“We just attended his wife’s wake last few months in Antioch, California. May his soul rest in perfect peace.”According to Alhaji Sani Ahmed Toro, who was the football house’s Secretary General when Keshi led the Super Eagles to the two tournaments in 1994, “this is a big loss to Nigeria football. Please accept my condolences.”
Also, former national coach and teammate, Sunday Oliseh, described the incident as horrible and sad.
Also condoling, erstwhile Sports Minister, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, expressed sadness and shock at the news.