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South Africa 2010: only Eagles can determine Nigeria’s fate – Okenla

How satisfied are you with the recent performances of Nigeria’s Super Eagles, especially their victory over the Harambee Stars of Kenya?As a Nigerian, I feel…

How satisfied are you with the recent performances of Nigeria’s Super Eagles, especially their victory over the Harambee Stars of Kenya?
As a Nigerian, I feel so proud on the day because it showed clearly that when decisions are taken and taken correctly, you will get results. Shaibu Amodu kept faith with the players who played against Ireland and France and from there you can see that every player will be determined to serve the nation. All the players are willing to serve the nation. If such tempo is sustained we would not have problems discovering new talents and that’s very important. The other very good thing that I observed was that since 2003, that was the first time that I saw this national stadium filled to capacity and you cannot but give credit to the Nigeria Football Federation or everybody that had something to do with that match. From the Minister of Information because for the first time, I saw a minister of Information speaking so passionately about the Super Eagles on the television, and other areas and I feel such collective effort brought about the resounding victory. It is not just about the players alone but every Nigerian in ensuring that there was massive mobilisation.

Nigerians are divided over the recently constituted presidential task force on Eagles. While some are of the opinion that it is a step in the right directions, others believe it is an unnecessary distraction. Where do you stand?
At this very point in time, Nigerians must remain focused on getting the 2010 world cup ticket. I repeat, at this point the most important objective to us as a nation should be how to be in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup. Whatever effort that is put in place to achieve that noble objective certainly should not be faulted by anybody. It is after we must have accomplished the set objective that we can come back and look at how things were done or not done at all. At this point in time, discussions of such nature will amount to unnecessary distraction. Give and take, there is a new wind of positive change blowing through and to me this is the most important thing. I am not interested in trivialities.

Going by what you have just said, the face off between the NFF and the presidential task force over who takes credit for the renewal in the team is nonsensical?
My response to this question may not be far from what I have said earlier. Every endeavour towards getting us to the 2010 World Cup is what I am for. I am not interested and will not even consider apportioning blames for why this was done or why this was not done. In as much as you can see for yourself, everyone wants to sit up and be counted among those who are working hard to see Nigeria in South Africa in 2010. It has brought some kind of pressure on everybody to deliver and I think this is a positive development. I don’t believe anyone should claim sole responsibility for the resurgence in the Super Eagles. This is team work and whatever good comes out of this is credit that must be given to all Nigerians.

It is said that Nigeria’s qualification for the 2010 World Cup is depending on the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia who are on top of the Group with the maximum points in their kitty. Do you believe Nigeria will beat Tunisia to the ticket?
We have to maximally concentrate on our own efforts. We should be able to determine our own fate. It is in our hands. If we win all our remaining matches, I don’t see how Tunisia can stop us but if we start doing calculations as to why and how Tunisia should lose and we win, it will no longer be in our hands. At this point in time, our qualification is in our hands. If we played well against Tunisia and beat them right there in Tunis, because there is nothing that says that we cannot beat them there and then beat them here in Nigeria, then we can clearly qualify for the World Cup. This is the only way I see us qualifying for the World Cup. This is what I stand for.

Some Nigerians are of the opinion that more experienced players like Joseph Yobo and Kanu Nwankwo should be handed the responsibility of qualifying us for the World Cup as they say the new kids on the block lack the confidence to absorb pressure away from home. Do you subscribe to such thinking?
On the day the Eagles took on the Harambee Stars of Kenya, you saw everybody, Kanu was there, Mikel was there, Taiye Taiwo was there but the coach had to pick the players that would deliver what he wanted and that was done. There is no point talking about experience or inexperience. You get more experience the more opportunities you are given. Those players have played three matches and you definitely would have seen the good things about them. I want to emphasize that the more opportunities they are given, the better they become. So I think that it will do our ambition a lot of good if it is a combination of the young and the so called experienced ones. But at all times, the coach should go for the best players who can deliver the results. There is no need relying on players past glories. A footballer is as good as his last game.

Are you therefore saying that it would be foolhardy to just throw away some of the players that Nigerians want out of the national team?
I won’t subscribe to such thinking because these are players who served the nation with utmost commitment in the past and are still playing actively for their respective clubs.  May be they were not fit for the last match but may be fit for the next match. We need to have everybody on board which is very important to the set objective of us going to South Africa.