November 5, 2009

Okpala, Omokaro, Isima want home -based Eagles against Kenya

As the Nigeria 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup gradually moves to its final stage, discerning football enthusiasts are also shifting their focus to the impending  2010 World Cup qualifier between Nigeria and Kenya.

The match holds on November 14 in Nairobi and the Kenyans are not leaving anything to chance as they have since intensified preparations ahead of the all-important clash.

The Nigerian team need an outright victory and perhaps pray for a Tunisian slip in Maputo if they hope to hoist their country’s flag in South Africa. But the Kenyans too need the match if their plans for the January Cup of Nations in Angola are to come to fruition.

Nigerians have been expressing concern over the level of preparations the national team handlers have given the players, who are scattered all over Europe.

Certainly, the Nigerian team will not start camping until next week. This has been attributed to the very busy club schedules in Europe and the coaches’ inability to organise a camp in Europe where the players are plying their trade.

Former Nigerian internationals, Bright Omokaro Okey Isima and Silvanus Okpala are of the opinion that the national team coach, Shuaibu Amodu should involve more home-based players in the Nigerian team to Kenya for the final qualifying match instead of playing a wholly Europe-based team.

Bright Omokaro who featured in the national team in the 80s and early 90s believes a mixture of   home and Europe-based players could just give Nigeria the desired victory over the Harambee Stars of Kenya.

“African football is a different ball game. Playing in Africa you forget about professionalism. What you require in African football is strength and technique,” Omokaro said, pointing out that “Westerhof succeeded in Nigeria because he had a perfect blend of home-based and foreign based players in his team.”

On his part, another ex-international, Silvanus Okpala said the local league has showcased a lot of players that are surprisingly still ignored by national team handlers.

“I do not know why it is so now.  We had the likes of John Chidozie, The Fashanu Brothers, Tunji Banjo among others in our days. The Green Eagles shirt was not automatic for any foreign based player. All of them were made to sweat.

Indeed, some warmed the bench all through,” Okpala recalled. He was surprised that despite the accolades being accorded the Nigerian league, home-based players were still being ignored by national team handlers.

“We have very good players I believe can hold their own on a good day. I feel they deserve a look-in.”
Okpala, who was called ‘quick silver’ in his active days said the disbandment of the home-based Eagles after their failure to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations for home based national teams was hasty.

“This is the time we would have needed them most. It  would have been easier to assemble the players here because they are home-based. Look at Tunisia, Mozambique and Kenya, most of their players are home based and you notice better cohesion in their teams each time  they play.”

Okey Isima wondered why with all the money the present crop of Eagles were getting, not much is being given to the country in return. “I feel if you give five thousand dollars to a home-based player as match bonus he would want to die on the pitch, if only to secure victory and defend his fatherland,” Isima said, calling on Coach Amodu to make the Eagles shirts more competitive.

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