Football WC: Nigeria coach Keshi calls for unity in defeat

Brasilia: Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said that his side`s World Cup elimination by France in the last 16 was "painful", but vowed that he would not seek out scapegoats.

Bidding to reach the quarter-finals for the first time, Nigeria stood toe to toe with France for much of yesterday`s match at Brasilia`s Mane Garrincha National Stadium, only to lose to two late goals. A handling error by Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama enabled Paul Pogba to head in a 79th-minute opener and France completed victory in injury time when Joseph Yobo scored an own goal from a Mathieu Valbuena cross.

While both French goals stemmed from Nigerian mistakes, Keshi was adamant that all of his players bore equal responsibility for the African champions` exit. "Once we lose the game, then you see all manner of different `coaches` who know everything about coaching," he said.

"Before the game, they know nothing. People want to start criticising, putting the blame on one or two people, but we play as a team, we win as a team, and we lose as a team."

"Any loss is painful, be it the first round of the World Cup or a friendly game. When you see the team playing good football, trying to do what you ask them to do, and all of a sudden it turns around and you`ve lost, it`s painful."

"I don`t think we deserved to lose this way, but it`s part of football. It can happen at any time."

Keshi`s starting line-up in the Brazilian capital contained two 21-year-olds in the shape of midfielders Ogenyi Onazi and Ahmed Musa and a 20-year-old in centre-back Kenneth Omeruo.

Nigeria faded badly as France took control of the game in the latter stages and while he was reluctant to apportion blame, Keshi admitted that inexperience may have played a part.

"Maybe some of the players were not mature enough, not enough focused on the game," said the 52-year-old. "I don`t know. It`s something we need to review, and see what we can come up with."

Nigeria`s preparations for the game -- their first knockout match at a World Cup since 1998 -- were disrupted by a row about player bonuses. The matter was only resolved following the intervention of Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, but Keshi said that the affair had had no bearing on the outcome of Monday`s game.

"First of all, this is the culture in Nigeria," said the former national team captain, who took up his current role in 2011."

"We have many stars and the authorities of the country, the president, speak with us on the phone, try to motivate us and push us to do better."

"That`s what happened. Whatever money they (players) got was a bonus to encourage every individual to give his best today."

Keshi is reported to be considering his position and has been linked with the vacant role as coach of South Africa, but he said his immediate priority after the tournament was to spend time with his family. Asked what he would do next, he replied: "Go home and see my wife and my children. I`ve not seen them for a long time."

Keshi was also fiercely critical of American referee Mark Geiger, claiming he made "a lot of mistakes" and was unduly lenient with France.

He predicted that midfielder Onazi would be out "for weeks" after injuring himself following an ugly foul by France midfielder Blaise Matuidi, who escaped with only a booking.

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