LONDON, May 29 – Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi launched a furious defence of his players following Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Scotland in a match whose build-up had been disrupted over a matchfixing investigation being launched.
Keshi, who captained Nigeria at the 1994 World Cup finals, said his World Cup finals-bound players were not gamblers they were footballers and ridiculed allegations that anything sinister had taken place.
The game was threatened after Britain’s serious crime squad the National Crime Agency were called to investigate a possible threat of match-fixing linked to illegal betting rings ahead of the game at Fulham’s ground in London.
But Keshi, who coached Nigeria to the Africa Cup of Nationa title last year, said his team were not affected by the off-field issues before the kick-off.
“We did (talk about it) because it’s something ridiculous, something that we don’t know where it’s coming from. We’re not gamblers, we are football players,” said Keshi.
“I don’t even know where that is coming from, we don’t know what happened, match fixing or no match fixing.
“This is the first time I’ve been a coach or been a player and the first time I’m hearing this, match-fixing. I don’t think it had anything to do with our build-up or the game.”
On the pitch Charlie Mulgrew opened the scoring for the Tartan Army after 10 minutes before Michael Uchebo equalised with four minutes left of the first half.
The Scots regained the lead through a bizarre own goal by reserve goalkeeper buike Azubuike Egwuekwe who appeared to flick the ball into his own net from James Morrison’s cross in the 52nd minute.
But super-sub Uche Nwofor converted an equaliser in stoppage time in a game that the Nigerians looked second best in throughout.
Scotland coach Gordon Strachan was delighted with the way his side played as they extended their unbeaten streak to six – whilst also refusing to be drawn on the match-fixing storm.
“I liked that performance,” said Strachan.
“I think the only thing we had a problem with is that some of the lads have not trained for three weeks and have been on holiday.
“We could have ended up with four or five goals and that’s the first time I have said that.
“In terms of play so far, that’s as good as it gets. Overall I think there was a bit of flair and imagination, which I like and it was against a top side.
“It is something we have been working on and we want to take it up a level, Nigeria are a terrific side and they upped their level and pressure.
“There is a lot to be proud of and I’m just disappointed for them that we haven’t got the win.”