Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel is backing Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi to make history by winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations as a coach after he won it in 1994 as a player. Mikel has maintained that with good preparation and determination by the players, the Super Eagles could be crowned African champions in South Africa for a third time. However, he has not ruled out a few shocks at the tournament in South Africa, tipping defending champions Zambia and West African islanders from Cape Verde, who knocked out four-time champions Cameroon, to cause a few upsets.
FIFA.com: You missed out on playing at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa due to a knee injury. Would winning the Nations Cup also in South Africa next year make up for that disappointment?
Jon Obi Mikel: Not really because we are talking about two different competitions and the World Cup is a far bigger event and the ultimate dream for any player. I was disappointed to miss the last World Cup in South Africa, but I also believe there are more World Cups for me to play. The 2013 Nations Cup is a different competition, and I hope to win my first winners’ medal with Nigeria there.
What do the Eagles need to do to win a third Nations Cup?
We need to prepare well, be focused and take all opponents very seriously. We also need to play as a team. If it is individual qualities, we have that in abundance and coach Stephen Keshi has already won this tournament as a player, and I believe he can make history by winning it again as a coach.
You will play in the FIFA Club World Cup and the English Premier League season is in full swing, will you not be tired by the time you arrive for the competition?
No, not at all. This won’t have a negative effect on me, but would rather make me fit and be ready for the Nations Cup.
Coach Stephen Keshi has already won this tournament as a player, and I believe he can make history by winning it again as a coach.
How would you describe your first Nations Cup in Egypt in 2006?
It was a wonderful experience. And it was great to finish up with a bronze medal there at my first-ever Nations Cup coming through from U-20s to the senior team.
How was it rejoining the team for the all-important qualifier against Liberia in October after staying away from the side for several months?
It was good, but even when I was not part of the squad, I kept in touch with the team. So, it was not like I was cut off completely because I’m always honoured to represent my fatherland.
How would you rate the Eagles first round opponents - Zambia, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia?
They are all decent teams by the fact that they have qualified for the Nations Cup. We therefore have to approach all of them with all seriousness, but I would still rate Zambia ahead of both Burkina Faso and Ethiopia as they are the defending champions.
Who is the Nigerian player who has most impressed you this year and why?
I don’t wish to single out just one player, we are all doing well at our different clubs, so I am not in position to pick just one player, we are all doing great.
Who are your top favourites for the Nations Cup?
Nigeria, Of course! Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire will also be up there, but teams like Cape Verde and Zambia could pose major threats. If Cape Verde could stop Cameroon, they must have qualities to do so. They therefore need to be taken seriously.
You are close to two Ivorian stars Salomon Kalou and Didier Drogba having played for several years with them at Chelsea. Have you discussed the Nations Cup with them?
We haven’t talked about it yet. We would probably do so when the competition draws closer.
On a final note, what do you expect at the Club World Cup in Japan with Chelsea?
I am delighted and honoured to be in Japan with my club to compete in this top competition. This is the first time Chelsea are playing in this competition, and I hope to win it with them and create more history here in Japan after we won the UEFA Champions League for the first time in May.