KANU WOULD HAVE INSPIRED EAGLES IN MAPUTO â€“ EKONG
Assuming Coach Shaibu Amodu had introduced Nwankwo Kanu against the Black Mambas of Mozambique in Maputo, Nigeria may have been leading in Group B in the race for the sole ticket to the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.
The Super Eagles' captain, who was confined to the bench throughout the match in Maputo, made all the difference in Sunday's clash between Nigeria and Kenya at the Abuja National Stadium.
His individual brilliance upon his introduction in the second half of the encounter, which helped the Eagles to a comprehensive 3-0 victory, has renewed the debate on his relevance or otherwise in the new-look national team.
One man, who strongly feels that the Portsmouth of England leggy forward remains phenomenal in the Eagles' race to the 2010 World Cup and most importantly at the mundial proper next year in South Africa is board member of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Chief Patrick Ekong.
'I agree with you entirely that Kanu could have made the difference if he had been introduced in the match against Mozambique in Maputo,' Ekong admitted in an exclusive interview with Saturday Sunsport in Abuja last weekend.
'I have always said it that the World Cup is not for small boys. It is for the big boys and men. That is why we have to keep our players who are mature and rich with experience. All we need to do is to make sure they peak in form before the World Cup, because they can change the game to our favour with their experience,' the ex-junior international went on.
Ekong regretted that the Super Eagles could not replicate their sparkling form against the Les Blues of France in the international friendly few days before the World Cup qualifier against Kenya. But he, however, expressed satisfaction with the scoreline and most importantly, the fact that Nigeria grabbed the three available points from the Sunday's clash.
'When we were mobilising people for the Nigeria/Kenya match, we assured them that they would be treated to classical entertaining football by the Super Eagles in addition to victory. But I must confess that the Eagles were not so entertaining on Sunday against Kenya.
'However, we are happy with the goal margin and most importantly, the three points we grabbed. I am sure the coaches would have noticed the absence of the entertaining flair for which the Super Eagles are known, especially considering the crowd that turned out to cheer the team,' he stated.
Asked whether the Eagles could have taken the Harambee Stars for granted, especially after scoring an early goal in last Sunday's encounter and the former Calabar Rovers ace replied: 'I don't think the Eagles underrated the Kenyans. In football, when two or three players have a bad day, it could reflect on the entire team.
'I believe that Super Eagles' problem come from the midfield, which the Kenyans loaded with many players while we relied on some players who played so well against France in the last international friendly, but failed to lift their games when it mattered most against the Kenyans.
'Kalu Uche and Seyi Olofinjana could not replicate the forms they exhibited against a more respected Les Blues of France and I had expected that something should have been done early to correct that imbalance. Thank God for Kanu, who brought his wealth of experience to bear when he was introduced in the second half.
Ekong, who is the vice-chairman of the Mobilisation Committee set up by the NFF, also spoke on how the committee were able to attract an unprecedented capacity crowd to the hitherto empty Abuja National Stadium against the Harambee Stars of Kenya.
'On behalf of the Chairman of the Mobilisation Committee, Dr Shehu Adamu, I wish to thank the Chairman of the NFF, Alhaji Sani Lulu for coming up with the idea of setting up the committee when they came back from Maputo after the match against Mozambique. The decision was informed by what they observed in Maputo.
'We (the Mobilisation Committee) went to town sensitising Nigerians on the need to come out en masse to cheer the Super Eagles against the Harambee Stars. We did the job in just two days. We went to just two areas: Nyanya and Mararaba, the suburbs near the Federal Capital Territory and Wuse in the heart of the city of Abuja.
'In Wuse, we concentrated on the market and motor park, appealing to people to turn out in their numbers clad in the national colours of green and white to cheer the Eagles.
'The result of our mobilisation campaign was not only encouraging but also unprecedented judging by the crowd that invaded the stadium for the match against Kenya. Since we have a mandate to mobilise support for the three home matches in the World Cup qualifiers, we will do more. But from what we saw on Sunday, I don't know whether we should continue with the mobilisation because I doubt whether the security personnel would able to handle the crowd next time.'
The Akwa Ibom State-born soccer technocrat admitted that much still needed to be done in the aspect of ensuring that fans don the green and white national colours to the stadium to cheer the Eagles in the subsequent matches.
'For the match against Kenya, our partners, Afribank produced only 5,000 jerseys, while the NFF provided additional 2,000 T-shirts, but we want to improve on that. We will advise the NFF to produce more jerseys and T-shirts and also appeal to well-meaning Nigerians and corporate bodies to come up with their support to ensure that people wear the green and white shirts to the stadium whenever the national teams are playing,' Ekong remarked.