Stephen Keshi.jpg
Photograph: EPA/MARIUS BECKER

The football world on Wednesday mourned the passing of an African legend as former Nigerian coach and captain Stephen Keshi died suddenly at the age of 54.

Keshi's family was quoted in numerous reports that he died of a heart attack, apparently en route to hospital.

Keshi - affectionately known as "Big Boss" - was one of only two people to have won the Africa Cup of Nations both as a player (in 1994) and a coach (2013). The other was Egypt's Mahmoud El-Gohary.

"Keshi was a superhero. His death is a big loss to Nigeria as a nation, not only to Nigeria football," Nigerian Football Federation President Amaju Pinnick said on Twitter.

Pinnick's tribute was one of thousands that poured in from around the world on Wednesday.

"The football family has lost a great member. Heartfelt condolences to family & friends of Stephen Keshi & The NFF," FIFA's new Secretary General Fatma Samoura noted on Twitter.

Keshi's "influence on the pitch cannot be underestimated," wrote FIFA in a report on his death.

"It is Keshi's international career that will perhaps evoke the strongest memories," FIFA wrote.

"With many African countries looking for coaching experience from outside the continent to lead their countries at major tournaments, Keshi was a beacon of hope for coaches from the mother continent.

"Not only was he the first Nigerian to lead his country to the AFCON title, he was the first African coach to lead a team to the Round of 16 at a World Cup, achieving that feat at Brazil 2014."

Keshi, who managed Togo and Mali and played among other places Belgian club side Anderlecht, coached the Super Eagles over three spells.

His biggest highlights were guiding Nigeria to 2013 Nations Cup title in South Africa and the last 16 at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

"Horrible news and a sad day. We lost an iconic hero today." Sunday Oliseh, a former Nigeria coach who played alongside Keshi, reflected.

"I can't believe it. I am in shock. Football legend," former Zambia international Kalusha Bwalya added.

English football giants Chelsea - where Nigerian internationals John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses play - also expressed their condolences: "All at CFC are saddened to hear of former Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi's death."

The Ghana Football Association also reached out to the Nigerians.

“Stephen Keshi was a great man and a noble spirit, whose shining example of dedication to football and to footballers was not only to dedicated Nigeria but to several countries including Ghana as he mentored several Ghanaian players," wrote the GFA President

"Keshi's death is not only a loss to our brothers Nigeria but also to the football fraternity of Ghana. He was greatly admired by all and he will indeed be sorely missed."

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