Super Eagles ride the high currents
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In a time when coaches and managers come and go with reckless abandon, Nigeria is trying to lead the way forward on the African continent. Although coach Stephen Keshi resigned after the Super Eagles bowed out of the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ in the Round of 16, the former international captain is still in negotiations to keep his job. Supporters in the football-mad west African nation are hopeful that a positive announcement from the two parties will come soon.

Since 1960, the only coach who has spent a longer time in charge of the Super Eagles was Dutchman Clemens Westerhof, who guided the fortunes of the team from late 1989 till after the 1994 World Cup. Keshi's longevity is all the more remarkable given that he is still in the mix after three international events, but that's a mark of his success. Most significantly, in 2013, he brought Nigeria their first African title since 1994, when the former defender captained the side under Westerhof.

But it is not only in terms of titles that Nigeria has benefited from Keshi's expertise as the team is ranked higher now in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking than it was when 'Big Boss' took over. At the time, the Super Eagles were ranked 44 in the world. Now they are currently ranked ten places better. After being handed the job in 2011, Keshi said that he was determined to take the side to success. "I will try to do to my utmost best to bring back joy to Nigerian people. There are challenges all over the place but I just have to keep my focus and see what happens."

World Cup jump
In February this year Nigeria were ranked 47 after finishing third at the African Nations Championship, which is a tournament in which only players from the local leagues are eligible to play. They then embarked on a series of friendlies against higher-ranked teams. Draws against Greece, Mexico and Scotland, as well as a 2-1 defeat against the 13th-ranked team in the world (in June), USA, saw the Super Eagles continuously climb in the rankings.

The west Africans were drawn into a difficult group at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, facing Argentina, Iran and Bosnia and Herzegovina in Group F. A draw against Iran, a victory against Bosnia and a 3-2 defeat against Argentina saw the Super Eagles advance to the second round, where they faced France. And although a 2-0 defeat sent them packing, they secured enough points to further climb on the FIFA ladder.

Before the start of the tournament, Keshi received some support from Westerhof, who told journalists: “Stephen Keshi is the boss; he decides which team he picks. Let Keshi do the job... He has already achieved results so far by winning the African Cup of Nations Cup, and qualifying for the World Cup.”

At the start of the World Cup, Nigeria were ranked 44 in the world and sixth in Africa. At the end of the tournament, they had moved up ten more places on the global scene, and only Algeria and Côte d'Ivoire were ranked higher in Africa.

Keshi shies away from saying that the upsurge in Nigerian football fortunes is based on his coaching, but he told FIFA.com that he was confident that consistency made a difference. “When I was employed, I chose a path I would follow and I have followed that path. I have not strayed from that path, and I think that the results show that we are on the right path with the national team.”

It could well be that should Keshi stay in charge of the team, a successful campaign in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers – where the Super Eagles are facing South Africa, Sudan and Rwanda – could see the Nigerians climb even higher in the FIFA rankings. Although their current ranking of 34 is still some distance from their highest placing – fifth in the world in April 1994 – Keshi could well be the man to take them closer to that position.