Keshi ultimately accepts his share of the blame after defeat at the hands of France

Emmet Malone in Brasilia hears the Nigerian manager decline to let his goalkeeper off the hook

Nigeria's coach Stephen Keshi cheers on his team during their 2014 World Cup round of 16 game against France at the Brasilia national stadium in Brasilia June 30, 2014. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino (BRAZIL  - Tags: SOCCER SPORT WORLD CUP)

Nigeria's coach Stephen Keshi cheers on his team during their 2014 World Cup round of 16 game against France at the Brasilia national stadium in Brasilia June 30, 2014. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino (BRAZIL - Tags: SOCCER SPORT WORLD CUP)

 

Having been around the block a bit, Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi knows the score: when your team goes out somebody has to be blamed and having initially been slow to name names, the 52-year-old was more forthcoming when it started to become clear that his was quickly rising to the top of the national media’s list of likely culprits in the wake of yesterday’s defeat by France.

There was the traditional sideswipe at the tactical ignorance of the one asking the question before Keshi was matter-of-factly damning of his goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama who, having generally had a good tournament, was largely responsible for the first goal conceded here due to a poor attempted clearance. “I can’t tell you why he padded the ball,” said the coach, “I was a long way away but his decision was final. It was costly. It was big.”

That comment made his subsequent stuff about winning as a team and losing as a team seem just a little hollow, but Keshi finally settled on a target he and his players could be united on; American referee Mark Geiger, whose decision not to send Blaise Matuidi off for a bad tackle on Ogenyi Onazi was probably the most controversial moment of the match.

As he warmed to the topic, Keshi rather undermined his case by making too much of the official’s correct decision to disallow a goal but, he observed: “the referee’s only a human and he is bound to make some mistakes but when he makes a lot of them it’s a problem. I’ve never talked about a referee before in my life but it wasn’t good.”

Philosophical

His opposite number was, predictably, more philosophical about it all: “What do you want me to say?” said Didier Deschamps when it was put to him that his side could count themselves lucky. “There are some situations where the referee has to make up his mind. When the decisions are in your favour you are not going to complain about it obviously and it’s easier to talk about but even if they are not what can you do? It happens.”

The captain of France’s World Cup winning side acknowledged that his players only really started to dominate here in the closing stages, something he put down to the Nigerians tiring rather than his own belated decision to replace Olivier Giroud with Antoine Griezmann, a notion he sought to laugh off when it was put to him.

No guarantees

“They are different types of players,” he replied without any obvious sign of rancour. “I can’t say whether it would have worked and you can’t tell me it would have worked; there are no guarantees. Olivier was very useful, he was a good support for Benzema and there were some nice combinations and headers. Defensively and offensively, he was important but then I decided that speed was better. Of course I could have started with Griezmann but would it have worked? Nobody can ever know if it would have been better or it would have been a total failure. What is important is the choices that we made worked and we ended up on a good note.”

 

The latter part is true at least with France, he suggested, having already done enough on this occasion to ensure they can go home with the heads held high. “I would say it’s not a failure,” he said when asked if the team’s campaign could be rated a success, “and that’s already a good point. We had some objectives and now are increasing them.”

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