This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: AYC - Ikhana Optimistic of Trophy

Coach of Super Falcons Kadiri Ikhana has hailed the level of discipline existing among his players as they intense preparation ahead of the forthcoming African Youth Championship slated for Equatorial Guinea, saying the trophy will not elude Nigeria.

In a chat with THISDAY, the former Nigerian international maintained that the culture of discipline among the players has made his job easy, adding that, his "girls have learnt fast and with much zeal".

According to Ikhana, "if there is anything that I have appreciated so far since my taking over of the Super Falcons job, it is the discipline among the players which has made my job to be very easy. The girls are very eager to learn and they learn very fast, because all of them want to prove a point and make good name for the country and for themselves. And they know the only way to achieve that is through hard work, hence the success we have recorded so far in our preparations."

Indeed, the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations winner is optimistic that the AYC trophy will not elude Nigeria if the level of preparation and past records are anything to go by. "Nigeria have a good pedigree as far-as the AYC is concerned and the mentality to always want to win it and I don't think that the trophy will elude us this time around. Hopefully, we will bring it to Nigeria", he said.

Against this backdrop, Ikhana stated that the team will play more friendly matches within the two months left for championship proper which comes up in October as camping resumes this August.

Meanwhile, the former Green Eagles defence ace also bemoaned the lack of recognition for some sports icons especially footballers who have paid their dues in the development of sports in Edo State, adding that he has the passion to serve his state whenever he is called upon.

"It is sad that some of us who plied our football trade in our active days and rose to the peak in Edo are today not recognized and we have been relegated to the background. It was our performance as footballers with the then Bendel Insurance and in some other sports that gave the state the glory it was enjoying then in sports. But now, some of us are not known anymore," he said.

"Edo State that used to be a breeding ground of sportsmen and women in the 70s and 80s is now a 'buyer state'. Edo now go out to buy athletes instead of producing as it used to be. It is sad," he lamented.

However, most worrisome to the 2003 African Coach of the Year and the first ever Nigeria coach to win CAF Champions League Cup in 2003 with Enyimba FC of Aba was his exclusion from the list of past footballers honoured by the Edo State Football Association in 2011.

"Can you imagine a list of some footballers who have served Edo State honourably were honoured the other time and my name was not there!? That is to say they don't even recognize the contributions of people like me in the development of football in the state at all," he lamented.

Going down memory lane, Ikhana who won two Nigeria Premier League (NPL) titles for Enyimba of Aba and Kano Pillars said he sustained the injury which ended his football career while playing for Bendel Insurance.

Despite his disappointment, Ikhana said: "I love my state with passion and I do not begrudge anybody for whatever position he or she occupies. Otherwise, my love for Edo State makes me visit home almost every month. If I am called to serve the state today, I will accept it wholeheartedly and work with all strength because Edo State is my alma mater. So, my first allegiance is to the state. I am a fully fledged Edo indigene, my father and mother are all Edo indigenes even as I was born in Ilorin, Kwara State."

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