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Ex-International, Friday Ekpo, has called on the victorious Super Eagles to put the AFCON win behind them and focus on how to qualify Nigeria for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. He spoke with JAMES AGBEREBI

After emerging champions at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, the Super Eagles next assignment is the World Cup qualifier against Kenya. What are your expectations from the match?

We are still basking in the euphoria of winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. At the same time, we know what we are looking for; we want to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. I think they will quickly drop that celebration garb and concentrate on the World Cup qualifier against Kenya. And I believe there will be early preparation. They should be in camp from the first week of next month from the feelers I am getting. Being African champions will now make teams to be afraid of them but that doesn’t mean they should relax. They should send a strong signal to the whole of Africa that they are here to stay and any team that comes their way, they should beat them ruthlessly. I don’t see the victory getting into their heads; I believe when the time for the Kenya game comes, they will be focused.

What would be your advice in terms of preparations so that the team doesn’t lose focus, especially now that everyone is still in a joyous mood?

We have professional players playing abroad in the team. And the home-based players and few others that will be called for the game would have been in camp at least a week before the game. Whatever tactics the coaches would want to use will not be a problem. It would not be like in our time when most of us were home-based players with few foreign-based players. Having said that, I would advice that they go into early camping because it’s only early preparation that can guarantee victory. They should make use of the kind of preparations that made them African champions and that is getting to camp early to play maybe one tune-up game.

Do you think the coach Stephen Keshi should still invite more players into the team, considering the fact that some of the players that featured at the Cup of Nations didn’t live up to expectations?

I believe the coach knows what he wants. It’s good to take risk and also not good to take risk at times. We need to do the most important thing first which is to win here convincingly. We have very good players both home and abroad and he knows who and who to invite to execute the game for him. He should invite the very best. It shouldn’t be a case of because some players were not part of the Cup of Nations; whoever merits a call-up should be invited.

What impact do you think winning the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa will have on Nigerian football?

The victory in South Africa shows that we’ve been preparing even though we’ve been failing in recent past.
This goes to show that we really work hard to emerge champions. The victory in South Africa will take our name into another level in football. People will start to say Nigeria has quality players and they are back into reckoning. It will give us that respect – most especially our players plying their trade abroad.

Did you ever believe that the team will come back as African champions?

I have never doubted the ability of the players because I am an advocate of development from home and the players Keshi used especially the home-based players never disappointed. Every one of them gave a good account of themselves. Even the players that did not play in the competition were supporting those on the field of play. God was really with them because whatever you start with God and end with God, you will never be disappointed.

What was the turning point for the team especially after a not too impressive group games?

You will recall that we did not participate in the 2012 edition and qualifying for this year’s edition, I think we were a little bit afraid- especially in our first game where we were trying hard not to lose. We had a bad start in our first game, another not too impressive game in the second match, no thanks to the referee but I will not want to put all the blame on him because we failed to do the necessary thing by killing off the game.
The pressure was on and it was a case of are we not going to qualify? And when we eventually did qualify, we faced Cote d’Ivoire and from there, the players stepped up their game because of the likes of Didier Drogba, Didier Zokora, Yaya Toure, Gervinho, Eboue and others. For you to be the champion, you must play like the champion. And I thank God because they played all the teams that finished first, second and third at the last Cup of Nations. So in the game against Cote d’Ivoire, they were fired up, stuck together and showed class. I think that was the turning point for them, and from that moment, everyone agreed that they were up for the cup.

(Sunday Mba got the goal that gave Nigeria the trophy. What do you think should be done to encourage players plying their trade in the Nigerian Premier League as we look into the future?

First, we need to reorganize the league properly because there are quality players- especially when you take into consideration the performance of the home-based players at the Cup of Nations. One way of bringing out the best in the players is paying them their money at the appropriate time. Talents abound in the league provided it is well organized. For every contract signed, one copy should go to the NFF, one copy to the club and one for the player. Every player wants to play for his country but everybody cannot play but I believe if the right things are put in place, you will see very good players who will emerge from the league and who will even do better than the ones currently in the Super Eagles. The likes of Sunday Mba, Godfrey Oboabona and others have really opened the eyes of everyone. So, first thing first; the league should be properly organized and I tell you  if this is done, we will see the best of Nigerian players from the home front.

Immediately after winning the trophy, coach Stephen Keshi announced that he is resigning his position as the coach of the Super Eagles. How did the news of his initial resignation got to you?

I don’t know what transpired over there in South Africa. But having said that, my advice to the NFF is that they should always try to have trust in our coaches. If you go to Brazil, Spain, Germany, England, it is their indigenous coaches that handle their national teams. Because the coach knows every nooks and crannies of the country more than a foreign coach. They should always believe in our coaches and give them that respect. Even if they fail, it does not mean they cannot achieve because nobody plans to fail. They should always show support to the indigenous coaches by rendering whatever assistance they need.

The Eagles will be representing Africa in the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil come June. What do you think are their chances, especially after being logged in the same group with world and European champions Spain and South American champions Uruguay?

I will advice that we go about our preparation in the best possible way and go to that competition to surprise everybody. I thank God that none of the players boasted that they will win the Cup of Nations on the pages of newspaper. They should go to the competition as under-dogs, create impact and spring some surprises. We can beat the Brazilians, the Spaniards, and others, it all depends on our approach and I believe once the approach is right, the Eagles will do well at the Confederations Cup irrespective of the big teams taking part in the competition.


In : Sports

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