This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: Keshi Defends Home-Based Players As Eagles Land in Nelspruit

Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix
Ikechukwu Uche of Nigeria reacts after missing a chance during the match against Burkina Faso.

Super Eagles Head Coach, Stephen Keshi, has said he is willing to take a chance on players from the Nigerian Premier League at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) because it is worth it. The Eagles who have been on transit from their Faro Camp in Portugal are scheduled to arrive Nelspruit, South Africa Thursday morning.

Keshi picked six players from the Nigeria Premier League (NPL) for this AFCON, a clear departure from the 2008 and 2010 tournaments when no player from the domestic league made the final cut.

Goalkeeper Chigozie Agbim, defenders Godfrey Oboabona, Azubuike Egwuekwe, midfielder Gabriel Reuben as well as forwards Sunday Mba and Ejike Uzoenyi play their football in the local league and have made the final cut for this competition in South Africa.

"Football is a game of risks. At the 1990 Nations Cup when the likes of (Daniel) Amokachi came in, about 80 per cent of the players were from the local league. It's a risk worth taking.

"If players in domestic league cannot play in Super Eagles then let's scrap the domestic league," said Keshi, who was a product of the Nigerian top flight with clubs like ACB and New Nigerian Bank (NNB), before becoming captain of the Super Eagles.

It is the first time in seven years that a Nigerian squad will have players from the local league for the AFCON.

Goalkeeper Dele Aiyenugba was the last player from the nation's top flight to make the cut to the 2006 AFCON while with Enyimba.

The former international skipper will not promise Nigeria a third Nations Cup trophy but said the team are confident and will give their best.

"I don't want to promise Nigerians anything, I am not going to give any assurance but I will do my best with the team in South Africa," he said.

"The level of discipline is great, good atmosphere. I hope the confidence will be sustained at the AFCON.

"If there is any pressure on me to perform at the Nations Cup, it is pressure from me not from any other quarters. We are not under any pressure to win."

Keshi also stated that he hopes to again work with Portland Timber striker Bright Dike who he dropped from the AFCON final squad.

"Dike will be a good goal getter for Nigeria in the future. I dropped him because the time was short for me to impact on him as I wanted. It was difficult for me to name the 23-man squad," Keshi admitted.

Meanwhile, Nigeria's first opponents in the group stage, Burkina Faso, are going to be without two of their stars, Alain Traoré and Charles Kaboré when the two West African countries meet on Monday, January 21 in Nelspruit.

The FC Lorient striker and saviour of the Stallions in this competition's qualifiers, Alain Traoré, did not receive the green light from the medical staff for the first match, as he has not yet fully recovered from his heel injury.

As for the Olympique Marseille midfielder and vice-captain of Burkina, Charles Kaboré, he is suspended for accumulation of yellow cards.

So a diminished Stallions outfit will measure strengths with the Super Eagles in Group C this coming Monday in Nelspruit, while Zambia will meet Ethiopia in the group's other match.

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