As the football world continues to mourn African football icon Stephen Keshi, who passed away at the age of 54, in the early hours of Wednesday, here are some of his best moments in the game.
After scooping the African Cup of Nations trophy in 1980 with Christian Chukwu as captain, Nigeria had to wait for 14 years before grabbing the trophy again (although they came close in Algiers 1990 and Senegal 1992).
Keshi – who had made his debut 13 years earlier against Burkina Faso in another AFCON qualifier – was the captain in the historic Tunisia 1994 tournament which many believe remains one of the best tournaments in African football.
The player, plying his trade with French side Strasbourg at the time, guided Nigeria to the trophy with his charismatic leadership and imposing defending style shining throughout the tournament, climbing onto the podium to collect the trophy after defeating Zambia 2-1 in the final.
That year the Keshi-led Super Eagles not only finished top dogs in Africa but they also made their debut in a senior FIFA World Cup.
Captain Keshi had the honour of leading Nigeria onto the pitch as they before lining up for the first ever world cup game against group B opponents Bulgaria.
That year Nigeria reached the highest ever FIFA ranking for an African team (fifth placed) after almost knocking out eventual finalist Italy in the second round stage of the USA ’94 Mundial.
Keshi wasn’t done with World Cups just yet. After going into full-time management on his retirement in 1995, and after stints as Nigeria’s assistant manager, the former Anderlecht player found himself in the Togo hot seat in 2004.
He changed a lot in Togolese football, bringing in unknown players from the domestic African leagues and instilling massive confidence in them which culminated in Keshi qualifying them to their first ever FIFA World Cup and his name written in gold forever.
Players like Emmanuel Adebayor have always hailed his achievement and the legacy he left behind. Although he was replaced before the tournament by German Otto Pfister, he was the one who did the hard job of seeing Togo through the hard work of qualification in the unpredictable African games.
Since the 1994 triumph, Nigeria failed to lift the African Nations Cup trophy again till a certain Keshi came around.
It had been 13 years since the Eagles’ last victory on African soil and the country’s many football lovers were becoming agitated. Keshi, who signed a three-year deal with the Nigeria football federation a year earlier, was given the task of taking the young team made up largely of homegrown talent to the semis.
But the gaffer had other plans: he not only guided his team past title favourites – and the most star-studded team in the tournament – Ivory Coast which paraded the likes of Didier Drogba and Yaya Touré, he also made sure they brought the trophy back home to Nigeria after defeating Burkina Faso 1-0 in the final.
And so he became only the second person to have ever won the Nations Cup both as a player and a coach after Egypt’s Mahmoud El Gohary.
Keshi also became the first African coach to guide two African teams to the FIFA World Cup (Togo 2006 and Nigeria 2014) when he steered Eagles to the last Mundial in Brazil.
Before the tournament, there was a lot of pressure on Keshi whose task was to make sure the country’s senior national team made an impact at the events.
Nigeria hadn’t reached the knockout stage of a world cup since 1998 (with legendary players like Austin Jay-Jay Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu).
Keshi as manager proved it could be done as he also became the first African manager to reach the second round stage of a Mundial in history when he qualified out of a tough Group F alongside a Lionel Messi-led Argentina.
As legendary ex-Zambian footballer Kalusha Bwalya, who started his career at the same time as Keshi, put it: the shock and pain of losing him will subside after some time but the memories of his achievements as both a player and coach will live with us forever.