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Nigeria coach rounds on pitiful cynics back home
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi has urged the tens of millions of fans back home to forget their sniping and cynicism and get behind his players ahead of Sunday's clash with Ivory Coast.
Keshi, visibly frustrated at the lack of support emanating from Lagos for his Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finalists, said: "It's a great shame that a nation doesn't have confidence in its sons, the players.
"It's pitiful, if my players hear that what sort of morale boost does that give them?
"The fans expect Ivory Coast to kill us, but football is about 11 v 11 over 90 minutes -- anybody can think what they want, but we'll see what happens on Sunday."
Asked at a press conference here on Friday if he had a message for the people back home he replied tersely: "No."
He added: "We want to contibute something tangible to this Nations Cup, otherwise we wouldn't be here."
Nigeria captain Joseph Yobo echoed his manager's sentiments.
"There was a lot of expectation before we came here, everyone is entitled to their own opinon. Nigerians know their football, but all we need is their support and prayers and to believe in us.
"I think we will have an answer (to the critics) after the game on Sunday."
The experienced Fenerbahce defender added: "On paper the Ivory Coast are favourites, so people might class us as the underdogs, but we know the importance of this game, we're very, very focused.
"It's not about star names, it's not about individuals, it's about going through to the next stage."
The Ivorians hold the edge in their recent Nations Cup encounters with Nigeria, prevailing 1-0 via a Didier Drogba goal in the 2006 semi-finals in Egypt and by the same scoreline in the first round two years later in Ghana.
Depsite those reverses Yobo, at his sixth Nations Cup, insisted Sunday's meeting was not about revenge.
"We are not regarding this as payback time. Credit to Ivory Coast, they've beaten us before, but those defeats were very, very close.
"On Sunday we want to qualify for the semi-finals, winning is more important than taking revenge."
Ivory Coast, with the likes of Drogba, the Toure brothers Yaya and Kolo and Gervinho, may trump this youthful Nigeria squad hands down in terms of experience, but Keshi isn't concerned.
"I have 100 percent confidence in my players. They don't necessarily have Nations Cup experience, but they all have experience in their respective clubs."
Given that this is the biggest stage many of his teammates have experienced Yobo as captain acknowledged the role he must play in helping the younger Super Eagles soar to the occasion.
"When I was their age I looked forward to the opportunity to star, to get recognised," said the the 32-year-old former Everton defender.
"This is their chance, to prove themselves, to move from their club perhaps to a bigger club.
"They can either get scared, or face this occasion and become better players.
"I'm going to motivate them, Sunday is not a day to switch off, it's a day to be present."
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