Johannesburg - Nigeria head coach Stephen Keshi believes his charges received a baptism of fire in their Group A opening match of the African Nations Championship (Chan) against Mali in Cape Town and will bounce back in the next round.
“The pressure was massive and I expected this type of happening but I am certain they (Nigeria) now know they have to satisfy themselves and have confidence in themselves," Keshi said after losing 2-1 to Mali on Saturday.
"We have lost the opening game and we have to forget that and fight for qualification from the remaining two games."
Keshi said the players were desperate, not only to convince himself and the technical crew of their potentials, but also the majority of Nigerians and the world that they could be part of the World Cup party.
He said most of the players were on the big stage for the first time and it showed in the manner in which they played.
The reigning African Coach of The Year told his team, during the interval, to loosen up and enjoy their game instead of trying so hard to impress.
“The team will definitely got better in the second half," Keshi said.
Defence kingpin Azubuike Egwuekwe said his team-mates needed to wake up to the reality of playing on the big stage.
“We didn’t play well at all [against Mali] and we all know it but we have decided that we will come back stronger and better. I plead with Nigerians to give us another opportunity, “ Egwuekwe said.
Ejike Uzoenyi, who was impressive on the wing, said experience counted in the game against Mali but assured fans all hope was not lost.
“We will be back and better in the next game” Uzoenyi said.