Nigeria World Cup warm-up key for Keshi
Nigeria are looking for a successful build-up to this year's World Cup, not just to inspire confidence going into the tournament but also to secure the future of the team's coach.
The Super Eagles begin their warm-up for the finals on Wednesday, with a game against Mexico in Atlanta, Georgia, with coach Stephen Keshi eyeing the game as integral to his plans for Brazil.
But he also knows the result could determine whether he leads the team in South America, given strained ties with Nigeria's footballing authorities and a history of switching coaches.
"There is still no trust between Keshi and his bosses," one top official said after Keshi recently flouted an order not to go on holiday and instead attend a presidential reception.
"It is a relationship that needs to be managed and massaged at all times. A lot of big egos are involved and in such a situation anything is possible."
- Vote of confidence -
Keshi led Nigeria to the country's third Africa Cup of Nations triumph in South Africa last year but sensationally resigned just hours after the victory only to reconsider his position later.
He accused the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) of interfering and plotting to hire a foreign coach on his staff.
Talk of additional assistance from an overseas coach resurfaced last month but the NFF was quick to dismiss this as rumour and pledged its full support to Keshi.
"We have through thick and thin kept faith with our coaches. Over time we have pledged our full support for Keshi," maintained NFF president Aminu Maigari.
"Nothing has changed. Our full support will be available for Keshi at all times."
Keshi had not been first choice for national team coach but he was handed the chance after fans' favourite Samson Siasia failed to qualify Nigeria for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.
He was saddled with the responsibility of rebuilding a team dismissed as "Super Chickens" instead of soaraway "Super Eagles".
Despite his success, Keshi has not had an easy ride, including going unpaid for several months until the government stepped in to pay his salary.
On three previous occasions, the coach who led Nigeria to the World Cup finals has been replaced before the tournament.
Frenchman Philippe Troussier was in charge during qualifying for the 1998 World Cup but Serbian Bora Milutinovic took the helm at the tournament proper in France.
Likewise in 2002 and 2010, Shuaibu Amodu was given the boot when he guided the country to the finals but Adeboye Onigbinde and Sweden's Lars Lagerback respectively took charge at the finals.
Amodu's undoing on both occasions was a disappointing build-up to the World Cup.
- Indication of performance -
Nigeria's match against Mexico will effectively determine Keshi's plans for Brazil, as it is the only free window before he opens his training camp in Houston, from May 25.
Keshi, who last March said Nigeria could reach the semi-finals, has called up three uncapped players for the friendly, including Standard Liege striker Imoh Ezekiel.
Ezekiel has reportedly caught the eye of Belgium coach Marc Wilmots but the player has opted instead to play for his homeland.
"I am disappointed Moses is not playing but there is nothing I can do as I'm not (Liverpool manager Brendan) Rodgers. I will talk with the player when he is here for the game," said Keshi.
The coach will also likely face fresh questions about why he has shut out Villarreal striker Ikechukwu Uche, who has scored 12 goals this season in La Liga.
Keshi has maintained that Uche is not in his plans for Brazil because he lacks tactical discipline at international level.
Nigeria and Mexico have played out draws in their two previous meetings but the Eagles handler said he was looking more at the team's performance.
"What is most crucial is to see how we play as a team. It will give us an idea of some of those who are ready for the big stage," he said.
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