10 Lessons From Nigeria’s Victory At AFCON 2013 By Malcolm Fabiyi

Malcolm Fabiyi
Malcolm Fabiyi

The applause has died off. The 2013 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) Nigeria team have played themselves into the annals of history. However, there are timeless lessons to be gleaned from the performance and attitudes of the Super Eagles coach and players. Here are ten of the most pertinent lessons.

1.    Stand your ground. When Keshi submitted his list of players, he was roundly lampooned for the list of players he came up with. The big name, perennial stalwarts were absent. Six of the players he selected played in the lackluster local league.  Keshi and his team were written off even before the games began. It is easier to swim in the direction in which a stream flows – but sometimes, true progress can only come by taking a stand that goes against the common grain. Stand your ground, when you believe your reasoning is sound, and your cause is right.

2.    Focus on your weakness. Your strengths are already solid. It is your weakness that makes victory elusive. Nigeria’s problem at the nation’s cup has never been a lack of individual skills. It has been the inability to forge team unity and cohesion, and the lack of a genuine hunger for greatness. Keshi’s team had cohesion in abundance, and it is not accidental that this is the first Nigerian team in decades that did not implode with infighting and conflict at AFCON. It probably helped that the team was written off before the games even began, which forced them to bond ever more tightly. It also helped that players with outsized egos were not called up.  The scorned team’s desire to prove themselves spurred them on to greatness.

3.    Stay the course. At the start of the tournament, the Nigerian team conceded a last minute goal to Burkina Faso, struggled against Zambia, and needed penalties to overcome Ethiopia. By the fourth game against Cote D’Ivoire, it all started to come together. They started to click at just the right time.  It was not accidental. The errors of the early games were important learning opportunities for the later games.   The pre-tournament training in Portugal had helped bring the team together. Being written off gave them a hunger to succeed. It took some time for all the elements to come together. Heated metal in a blacksmith’s forge first appears to be untouched by the searing flames – and then suddenly, it yields, and starts to flow. Stay the course. Don’t give up before your situation yields – like metal in the forge.

4.    Have a Plan, but be ready to modify it as needed. Nigeria played free flowing, attacking football throughout the tournament. That basic strategy never changed. Against Mali, there was a slight modification. Keshi asked the team to speed the game up further. Why? Because the Mali defenders lacked pace.  The plan had worked up to that game, but to succeed, even good plans might need to be changed or modified. Plans are not developed in a vacuum, and he best plans are adaptable, taking cues from the field of play, and responding to them.   

5.    Solutions lie around us. The Yoruba often say that “what you are looking for in Sokoto (a City) is in your Sokoto (your pants)”. Mba, Oboabona, Uzoenyi, Gabriel, Agbim and Egwueke play in the Nigerian league. Fittingly, it was Mba’s goal that won the trophy for Nigeria. Look around you. What you need to succeed might be closer than you think.

6.    Adversity can be turned to strength. Adversity can break you or make you. The choice for how to respond to adversity is entirely yours. In 2002, Victor Moses was an 11 year old boy mourning the killing of his parents in religious riots in Kaduna. In 2013, he was helping his native country win a trophy that had been elusive for 19 years. The experience of seeing one’s parents murdered will break even the strongest amongst us. The idea that the boy so grieved would ever agree to lace up boots for the nation that failed him, is incredible. Moses believes his parents “look down on him” when he plays. Moses has turned his personal tragedy into great strength. He can play anywhere in the world, and be sure that he has loved ones looking on, applauding his every move. Has your personal tragedy or failing kept you down? Look for the silver lining in your cloud!

7.    No vision, No progress. You must want it to have it. Those who have outstanding success have the ability to picture exactly what they hope for, and to hold on to that vision – even if no one else believes in their dream. Here are Keshi’s words: “I told the Togolese people we would qualify for the World Cup and they didn’t believe. I told my captain (Joseph Yobo) that we were coming to South Africa to win the cup, but he also didn’t believe.” Everything starts with the vision. When your goal is to win, it makes you get the right players in place, it makes you emphasize training and hard work. Have you determined what success looks like to you?   It doesn’t matter whether others buy into it at first.

8.    Acknowledge God’s Grace. Yes the Nigerian team practiced hard, but so did many others before them who failed. Yes, the team was full of talent. But there have been more talented teams that failed to win the ultimate prize. Ultimately, there is an element of God’s grace and providence in every triumph. That knowledge keeps us grounded, and stops us from getting swollen headed.

9.    Meritocracy pays dividends. Once upon a time, the composition of the Nigerian football team could be predicted a full year in advance.  The players that were called up  – the big boys, as they were called – felt entitled. It didn’t matter if they had sat on the bench all season at their clubs. The result of that approach speaks for itself – 19 years of failure at the continental level. In Nigeria’s political life, ethnic balancing and strident nepotism has eroded a once stellar culture of achievement. Where merit is not allowed to reign, failure inevitably follows. Allowing merit to prevail might mean every player comes from the same village. It might mean having 6 local players in the team. It might mean dropping some “big-boys”. One thing is certain – failure is a stranger where merit reigns.

10.    Don’t change your friends too quickly. Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. When you are successful, the whole world suddenly wants a piece of you. Always remember though, that those who now hail and acclaim you as a “Super Eagle” in your moment of success will be the same ones who will rail at you and call you “Super Chicken” when failure comes knocking. Appreciate those who stood by you when the going was tough.  They are your true friends.

18 comment(s)
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Their DNA

The writer has written. The ostritches among you can hide your head in the sand as long as you wish.
Igbo people will remain who they are, whether Nigeria likes it or not. It is in their DNA. They fought for three years and lost the war. After they were forced back to Nigeria, they again proved their capability and won the series of soccer tournaments that came up that year before detractors began to buy them into their teams. Who will not remember Enugu rangers and how the same rangers eventually supplied players to other clubs, including theJets of Jos etc.


what an inspired lovely speech full of undeterred and unalloyed lessons. You touched me to my bone marrow, reminding me of rays of hope irrespective of your challenges


It seems to me, some ppl hve not learnt the lesson frm this article. Unity of both purpose and ppl guarantees success. It still baffles me to see that some ppl are still talking about their regional interests.

that this is the first trophy

that this is the first trophy for 19yrs does not mean that we did not assemble excellent and indeed best teams within these yrs of waiting. we have lost the finals almost four times contrvertially, through no faults of ours, majorly poor officiating. we didnt just sit back for 19 doing nothing.this is when God says we should win it, but this is not the best team we have assembled since the last time we won the AFCON. We must appreciate our past efforts.

"The continent will do better if it breaks up

What a foolare you akpos1? It seemed that you don't know the difference between a continent and a country. If Nigeria is a continent what then would you call Africa? what you wrote is not sensible at all. You seemed to be very ignorant. why dont you burry your head in shame in your republic of SS&SE? fool!

SS is not part of the east

My igbo brother when will you stop adding the south south to your igbo nation. All you want is the oil. We are not a part of Nigeria or the igbo nation. We are our own nation. Long live ss.

Yes ...lets do away with federal character and zoning...

For those who have concluded that winning a competition on the back of defeating Ethiopia, Mali and Burkina Faso means Nigeria is ready for a Nigeria without federal character, then I say we should start with allowing all those that seek power of any form to have to fight for it from hence forth.

They truth will dawn on people that if merit is the sole determinant (and when I say merit I mean whichever person is able to best form coalitions needed to win) then all positions from President, Vice President, Senate President and Speaker will be held by core Northerners from top to bottom!

I love each and every

I love each and every paragragh of this article. Very educating. Thank you Bro. Malcolm Fabiyi!

beautiful piece

well written what a beautiful piece .thank you you have made my day

Great work!

This write-up is a great piece. kudos, Fabiyi

Brilliant piece as ever. The

Brilliant piece as ever. The message and the style of its presentation are awesome.

Where have you been? I have been looking for your view on certain issues on this page. Welcome back

stellar piece Mr Fabiyi

Keshi exhibited all that he learnt as a former International and actually did work and focused on the weaknesses of his team. By consistently playing Ambrose as a right back as against the centre, Keshi moulded a team that eventually got the top price. Again, convincing his captain, Yobo, to only come into games in a cameo appearance reminds one of what Keshi himself experienced in Tunisia 94, most importantly, it suggests that Keshi was on top of his team just as Westerhof was in 94. Not to forget that the likes of Ikechukwu Uche was not the preferred starter in front, in the face of more hungry players like Emenike. I hope we can apply some of the lessons here to other aspects of our National Life?

nice piece but ......

Nice piece but you what should probably be the number one lesson : the need to abolish the Quota system in Nigeria and go for merit.


At the onset when Keshi picked his team ,many accused him of bias,they claimed he picked an Igbo dominated or Biafran team.In 1994 when he captained the Eagles to AFCON victory,that team was also Igbo dominated so Keshi understood that he would pick the players who would get the job done irrespective of their tribes.
Just like in football,if the right people are allowed to govern Nigeria,we shall be like the Asian tigers in no time,so just give the Igbo a chance to make this country the envy of the world,an Igbo President would change a lot in this country,A WORD IS ENOUGH FOR THE WISE.


At the onset when Keshi picked his team ,many accused him of bias,they claimed he picked an Igbo dominated or Biafran team.In 1994 when he captained the Eagles to AFCON victory,that team was also Igbo dominated so Keshi understood that he would pick the players who would get the job done irrespective of their tribes.
Just like in football,if the right people are allowed to govern Nigeria,we shall be like the Asian tigers in no time,so just give the Igbo a chance to make this country the envy of the world,an Igbo President would change a lot in this country,A WORD IS ENOUGH FOR THE WISE.

Lesson 11----The continent wil do better if it breaks up.

Lesson 11: The component countries of continent Nigeria will excel & do much better if the country breaks up!. This is a scientific & spiritual fact.

...Just like the United Republic of the SS&SE country won the Nations cup, so will it be able to pay its unemployed up to $1,000 monthly. Perhaps even more.

...but with parasitic countries from the North & West, nothing is working. Ogun state indigenes are dying from hunger but Otta farm is worth billions stolen from my oil.
Long live the United Republic of the SS&SE

President Jonathan winsd Afcon for nigeria-20yrs after

20 years after waiting in the wilderness for Afcon, president Jonathan finally hands over victory to Nigeria--say whatever rubbish you want to say here-the records shows that the Cup of nations for the year 2013 was won during the tenure of president jonathan--if u like change his goodluck name to badluck--na u sabi---his good looks and luck gave us afcon--3 happy cheers to the presido! Pained that it happen under his rule? Go die near the oil wells in the niger delta-period!

Nice Article

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