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Emmanuel Amuneke aims to exceed achievements of 'Father' Stephen Keshi

"Emmanuel Amuneke, he believes in God. When you see him play, so will you."

This was the copy of a 1995 ad featuring the then Nigerian winger, standing with both arms spread wide, like an eagle in flight, and one foot on a ball.

It was a fitting tribute to the genius of the left-footed wing necromancer who had not only emerged from nowhere to score two goals as Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1994, but also had been instrumental to their enchanting World Cup play in the U.S. a few months later.

A quarter of a century later, that belief has not wavered one bit, and as Amuneke conjured something of a minor miracle for the small East African nation of Tanzania by qualifying them for their first Cup of Nations appearance in nearly four decades, he points up to divine grace

"Before I came into Tanzania, there were other coaches," the Nigerian told ESPN.

"It is not that I am better than them; I am just blessed. It is just Grace from God, and I am happy that I have been given the privilege to take a team to the Nations Cup."

Tanzanians will also count themselves somewhat blessed to have had the pieces fall in place for them at a very opportune time. Amuneke was a few months out of leaving Sudanese club SC Khartoum when he was approached by the Tanzanian Football Federation.

"I didn't think about it too long. They showed interest that they wanted me to coach their team. Once I spoke to them and I found out that their ideas for developing football was the same with mine, I gave it the green light."

Despite those convergent ideas, not many people would have expected the Taifa Stars would be at the Afcon a few short months later, not even when they secured a goalless draw against Uganda in Kampala, but Amunike said he believed anything was possible with hard work

"When I came, nobody expected us to do much because, with all due respect, many of us Africans don't believe in each other. We feel that only Europeans can do the job.

"But I said one thing at my first press conference: That we are not here to make promises to anybody, but I believe that if we work very hard we can qualify; and that is exactly what we did as a team. From the administrators to the players, to the fans and the fans.

"From day one, I believed in the project that the federation had. One was to develop, the other was to improve as a team, especially after drawing at home to Lesotho, which wasn't very good. We looked at ourselves, we knew we were not very good, but that if we kept an open mind and worked hard we could achieve big things."

Amuneke's extraordinary achievement with Tanzania lines him up behind the late great Stephen Keshi as only the second Nigerian to lead a team to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations.

Keshi, whose move to Europe made him a trendsetter for the modern generation of African footballers, went on to qualify for the World Cup twice, first with Togo and then with his motherland Nigeria.

Keshi also made history by becoming the first indigenous coach to lead Nigeria to the knockout phase of the World Cup.

Amuneke has already earned his international coaching stripes with two age-group World Cup titles -- one as an assistant coach, the other as head coach. And with his quiet, non-confrontational yet steely determination to win, he could well be in line to follow in Keshi's footsteps. But the former Zamalek and Barcelona winger wants more

"We all know the kind of person Keshi was. He gave everything during his time to the game that he loved so much and I am privileged to have towed his steps. I cannot compare myself to Keshi because who he is and what he has done is incomparable.

"But we pray that the son should grow more than his father. If it is the will of God, our ambition is to go beyond Keshi."

That may sound audacious, it might even come across as slightly presumptuous if taken out of context, but Amuneke's use of the word "we" appears to have been chosen, as his next words show

"African coaches need to be given more opportunities. We can do much more if there is support from everyone instead of running to Europeans at every opportunity."

Having made use of his own opportunity, there is the real chance that Amuneke and his wards could come face to face with Nigeria when the chips are down. It is not a thought that gives him any sleepless nights

"I am a professional, and it does not matter even if I am playing against my mother or my late father; I want to win. And we cannot be afraid of anybody, otherwise we should not be among the 24 teams at the tournament.

"But we will continue to work hard, to improve, to learn form our mistakes and try to do better."

Egypt coach Javier Aguirre told ESPN that he was a big admirer of Amuneke: "I loved to watch Amuneke as a player, and now as a coach, what he has done with Tanzania is fantastic. It is not easy to qualify for Afcon, and to do it with a country like Tanzania after 39 years is amazing."

Following his Tanzania accomplishment, Amuneke will now be an obvious frontrunner for the Nigeria job in the near future - an opportunity that could come as early as post-Afcon.

Is that something he would consider?

"I think it would be inappropriate, even disrespectful, for me to talk about coaching Nigeria when they have a coach already. Especially one who has just qualified them for the Nations Cup after two failures.

"I think the thing for Nigeria now is for everyone to support the coach they have right now to achieve the objective.

"Nigeria is my country. As a player I gave Nigeria 100 percent, and as a coach I gave Nigeria 100 percent. I am happy where I am, and with the decision to come to Tanzania. If the opportunity comes in the future, we will see."

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