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Tragedy fuels Nigerians

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POSTED June 21, 2014 12:50 a.m.

CUIABA, Brazil (AP) — Stephen Keshi’s Nigeria squad wants more than just three points against Bosnia-Herzegovina to revive its World Cup campaign on Saturday.

Saddened by a bomb blast that killed 14 people at a World Cup viewing site in northeastern Nigeria, he said the African champions also want to try to put a “smile on Nigerian faces” by producing a performance to be proud of in their second game in Brazil.

“Our heart goes out to these people,” Joseph Yobo, who is set to captain Nigeria in the Group F match, said Friday. “I think without fans, football would not be enjoyable.

“All we can do is do well for our country.”

The bomb blast occurred in Damaturu, northeast Nigeria, on Tuesday as fans watched the game between Brazil and Mexico. Witnesses said a suicide bomber drove a tricycle taxi packed with explosives into the area.

At least 26 people were wounded in the incident, which took place a day after Nigeria started the World Cup with a disappointing 0-0 draw against Iran. Nigerian authorities are now advising citizens to avoid watching World Cup matches in public places.

Nigeria coach Keshi said the needless deaths had cast a shadow over the team’s World Cup campaign.

“We will try to do everything possible to put a smile on Nigerian faces tomorrow,” he said.

The seven matches played so far in Brazil by the five African confederation teams have only netted one win — courtesy of Ivory Coast against Japan. Once again, Africa is expected to be under-represented in the last 16 in its elusive quest for a first world title.

With a game against Lionel Messi’s Argentina in Porto Alegre to finish off group play, a win over Bosnia-Herzegovina is essential for the Nigerians.

“It’s not so good for the African continent,” Keshi said, “but I think we have one or two teams that are on course to do something,” good.

Keshi said with 2010 champion Spain and England already out of contention in the group stage, it’s not just the African teams struggling in Brazil.

“If you look around, it’s not just Africa — the champions of the world, two games they are out,” he said. “There are no more ‘little’ teams in the world.”

Keshi is no stranger to shaking up his lineup following a poor result — and he put the draw with Iran in that category.

Peter Odemwingie, who finished the season well with Stoke in the English Premier League, could start up front alongside Emmanuel Emenike.

Alternatively, John Obi Mikel — a defensive midfielder with Chelsea — could be thrust into a more forward role he used to hold when he was a precocious youth player.

“We know he is one of our key players,” Keshi said of Mikel. “We demand that he produces, and he gives his all.”

Yobo is likely to be recalled after Godfrey Oboabona came off against Iran with a foot injury. It would be Yobo’s 99th international appearance.

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