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Soccer News Mon, 23 Jan 2006

Expect A Tough Game - Okocha

SUPER Eagles' captain Austin Okocha who may miss today's game against the Black Stars spoke over the weekend on the much talked-about match, Obafemi Martins and other key issues.

Excerpts:

You are welcome to the Super Eagles camp.

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Thanks, I'm pleased to be around with my colleagues.

Two years ago when the team was preparing for this same championship you did not attend the camp but you are here now almost two weeks to the event in Egypt. What has changed?

Well nothing really. It's just that we had a very tight programme at my club two years ago. But now, things are a little bit relaxed in the club. This gave me the opportunity to join the camp earlier than I did when we went to Tunisia. Now that you'! ve been part of the preparations for some time now, will you say you've been surprised by the level of competition for places in the team? I won't say I'm surprised with what I've seen so far in the camp. This is because I always know we have a lot of talent in the country. We've got a lot of good players in the team and everybody wants to play in the starting 11 of course, this creates a lot of competition in the team. This is good for us and I'm glad to say the situation in camp has met my high expectations.

How do you compare this squad with the one that won bronze medal in Tunisia?

To be honest, I think it's too early for such comparison because this squad is yet to play in the tournament. But talking about the team that went to Tunisia, I think we had a very strong squad in that tournament. I believe we were just unlucky to lose to Tunisia in the semi-final. But maybe such comparison will be proper after the tournament in Egypt. All I can say for no! w is that we have a very promising team on paper at least, but we still have to go to Egypt and prove ourselves.

You will be leading arguably the youngest Super Eagles in history to Egypt. Do you think this is a disadvantage?

Well, it's too early to say, you know. Everything will depend on how quick the boys are able to adjust to the demands of the tournament. Yes, a lot will depend on what level of maturity the boys display in Egypt. It's good that a lot of them have played a good number of big matches at club level. But again the Nations Cup is another tournament, the biggest in Africa and the boys have to start showing maturity from the very beginning. However, the team still has a couple of matured players around and together with these young boys, I want to believe we can lift the team.

After winning every individual prize in Tunisia, what kind of championship are you looking forward to in Egypt?

I think I was lucky to have won the things I won in Tunisia 2004. But I reckon it was a team thing. The boys were always there for me. It certainly was not my effort alone. Even now, especially because of the responsibility I have as the captain, I always think more of the team than I used to do in the past. So to answer your question, I'm expecting us to have a good tournament and not just Jay Jay. Of course, I'd be more delighted in the team's success than any individual award because whatever the team achieves, I can always say I was part of the team.

How desperate are you to become the first Nigerian to win the Nations Cup twice, especially now that this is your last international championship coupled with Nigeria's failure to reach the World Cup in Germany?

Well, I'm not under pressure to achieve success in Egypt. Rather I see this tournament as an opportunity to put smiles on our people's faces again because I must confess that I feel very bad that we did not make it to Germany. I would say that I'm glad that we ! have another opportunity to atone for our mistakes in the World Cup qualifiers. So I appreciate this is a big challenge. But I want to stay positive and see it as an opportunity rather than trying to put pressure on the team or myself.

Your first group opponents, Ghana, has been talking tough. They say they are superior to the Super Eagles because they are going to the World Cup and you are not. How do you think the clash between you two will go on Monday (today)?

Well, as you know, every game in any tournament is important, especially the first game. Victory in that game will help the team to grow in confidence and I think the game against Ghana will be more difficult because it's always a derby. But their boasting does not bother us because at any given time, Nigeria remains the team to beat in Africa. You know it's the underdogs that make a lot of noise.

Maybe Ghana is trying to psyche themselves up. No matter, who we're playing against, it's always made a big headline when you beat Nigeria. But when we win, there's no big deal because it's always like it's normal. So I'm not bothered about their boasting. My only concern is how to get the boys ready for the challenges in Egypt.

On a lighter mood, supposing something happens and FIFA now asks Nigeria to come and play in Germany, will you reconsider your retirement?

Well I don't know what will make that happen. But if you insist I must answer, it's yes. You remember that I said I'd like to end my international career in Germany at the World Cup. So, I said I was going to end it now since we didn't make it to the World Cup. But, of course, if that happens and we're invited by FIFA, I'd reconsider my position and go to the World Cup. Otherwise, this will be it for me as far as the national team is concerned.

There's been a lot of rumour concerning your continuous stay in Bolton. Nigerians are eager to hear from you, is Jay Jay going back to Bolton after Egypt or you are going to seek petrol dollars in the Arab peninsula as is being rumoured?

No, I'm going back to Bolton. I think I made this clear that I would like to end my career in Saudi Arabia or Qatar or somewhere that's not as competitive as England. You remember when I first went to England, people doubted my ability to cope with the pace of the game there, but this is my fourth year in the Premiership and I'll decide at the end of this season whether I want to continue playing in England or go to Qatar. You know I still want to be healthy when I finish my career. I can't just be hanging there for the sake of money or whatever. If I think I have nothing else to give, I'd go to somewhere else where I feel I can make meaningful contributions, develop their game and be appreciated. So let's wait for the season to end when I will make my decision.

The team had a couple of problems in Tunisia especially on some players' discipline. How equipped are you as the national ! team captain to prevent a reoccurrence of such?

Well, as an individual, you can always do your best. You can not vouch for people. You can trust them and you can gain their trust. But at the end of the day, people do make mistakes. However, I believe that we also learn from our mistakes. So I don't want to think anybody who is normal can repeat that kind of mistake because as things turned out eventually, that possibly was one of the reasons why we didn't win the trophy in Tunisia.

What do you think of this young striker, Obafemi Martins, people say he holds the key to the success of Super Eagles in Egypt?

I think we're blessed to have special players like Martins to be honest with you, I've never played alongside such a terrific forward in the Super Eagles.

The only forward I can compare him with in terms of pace is Julius Aghahowa. But Martins is a different kind of flavour. He brings different dimension to the team. He is the dream of every midfielder because he makes your job easier. I must say that I am glad that we've got such a player in our squad. He (Martins) is such a fantastic talent that one can only be pleased to have him around. Hopefully he and the rest of the team will have a nice tournament in Egypt. But it's not going to be a man's job. It's a team thing and every member of the team holds key to our success in Egypt. I just hope we can play to our potentials in the Nations Cup. If we can do that, we'll be unstoppable.
Source: Raymond-Radio B.A.R
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