John Obi Mikel
*As Malawi’s Flames arrive Calabar
By Jude Okwe
All 23 members of the national team were in full flight at the UJ Esuene Stadium, Calabar Thursday evening despite a down pour, with no one sure of which of them will be on the start list on Saturday in the World Cup qualifier against Malawi.
Nnamdi Oduamadi and John Ogu were the last two players to arrive and they showed no sign of let up at the wet pitch of the Calabar’s prime sports arena. Among the crowed that came to catch a glimpse of the African champions were NFF Security Committee, Effiong Johnson, who discussed at will security issues with State’s Sports Commissioner, Hon Patrick Ugbe and FIFA Security chief in Nigeria, ACP Gideon Akinsola.
There was also NFF Marketing Committee boss, Deji Tinubu, who has been trying to market Nigerian football on the world wide web and several officials too numerous to mention.
At the training proper, which was the first full house ahead of the game against Malawi, Mandela Challenge hero, Uche Nwafor was splendid, so was Emmanuel Emenike, Brown Ideye, Victor Moses, Obinna Nsofor, Ahmed Musa and Shola Ameobi.
When asked about his selection concerns, Head Coach, Stephen Keshi simply said he will pick only the best players and that will win for him on match day.
Fans at the stadium took nearly half of the arena in frenzy of their national team heroes and even after training they invaded the pitch in desperation to catch a glimpse of their stars, which did not quite go down well with the security men on ground in Calabar.
“We will get over situation before Saturday, because I am working in tandem with the Eagles Chief Security Officer, CSP Baba Nara,” declared ACP Akinsola on Thursday evening.
Meanwhile Malawi’s delegation of 21 players and seven officials have arrived Calabar ahead of the cracker against the Super Eagles on Saturday.
They had earlier flown into Abuja Thursday from Accra, where the team travelled through after losing a friendly against Botswana.
The team was received at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport by NFF General Secretary, Musa Amadu and other NFF top management. On ground since Monday were General Secretary of the Football Association of Malawi, Suzgo Nyirenda and the association’s chief accountant.
After securing visa at point of entry, courtesy of good relationship between the NFF and Nigeria Immigration Service, the players and officials then flew aboard an Arik Air flight to Calabar, where they were received by top officials of the Cross River State government and NFF’s Director of Technical, Dr. Emmanuel Ikpeme.
The visiting team will train at the U. J. Esuene Stadium this afternoon starting from 4pm.
Amadu said Thursday: “We have concluded all arrangements to host a very successful and hitch-free match. There is adequate provision for security, and even the Malawians will tell you they are very
comfortable with all the arrangements they have seen.
“We commend the government and good people of Cross River State for their exemplary role of playing good hosts to all the national teams whenever we call on them. The NFF implores our good-natured fans to turn up at the Stadium in our lovely green colour on Saturday.”
Meanwhile the camp of African champions, Nigeria, is in upbeat mood barely hours before taking on the Flames.
Yesterday, all the players were full of optimism ahead of the confrontation with the Malawians.
When both sides met in Blantyre on June 9 last year, the Eagles were running away with a lone goal scored by Reuben Gabriel nine minutes to the end, before a defensive blunder allowed the Flames to equalise and earned a point on the evening.
On Saturday, Nigeria need only a draw to finish top of Group F of the African campaign and reach the 10-team final elimination round, where a home-and-away fixture will determine Africa’s five flag-bearers at the global showpiece in Brazil next year summer.
The Flames, on seven points, need to win at the U. J. Esuene Stadium to shock Nigeria and move into the final round instead. The Super Eagles have never lost an international game at Canaan City.
While history and the odds may be stacked against the visitors, Coach Stephen Keshi is taking no chances, expressing his resolve to put Nigeria’s best legs forward on Saturday.
“We are cruising well but not yet over the line. We have to send the best guys out there to get the job done,” Keshi said Thursday.
Officials confirmed Thursday that the Director General of the National Sports Commission, Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye will represent the Minister of Sports/Chairman, National Sports Commission, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi. The Executive Governor of Cross River State, Senator Liyel Imoke, will be chief host.
The chairman of the Senate Committee on Sports, Senator Adamu Gumba and the chairman of the House Committee on Sports, Hon. Godfrey Gaiya will be among the dignitaries.