Super Eagles Head Coach, Stephen Keshi
By Duro Ikhazuagbe
Super Eagles Head Coach, Stephen Keshi, has warned the 23 home-based players who started training ahead of the 2014 World Cup qualifier against Kenya on March 23 in Calabar that the 2013 Africa Cup of Nation victory honeymoon was over.
The former Togo and Mali gaffer told the players who began training at the Practice Pitch of the Abuja National Stadium to forget about the triumph of the senior national team at the South Africa 2013 and concentrate on picking a ticket for the World Cup, coming up next year in Brazil.
Media Officer of the team, Ben Alaiya confirmed Tuesday that Keshi was out to prove that his victory at the Nations Cup was no fluke.
“Just as he said before the AFCON, Keshi told the new players in the squad that they can also become established players like the Godfrey Oboabona and Sunday Mba if they show enough readiness to break into the team.
“All the invited 23 home-based professionals, save for injured Kano Pillars central defender, Zango Umar.
“The training itself was intense, Spartan and very physical, with emphasis on quick and simple play. It lasted for about two hours with all the five coaches of the team playing their assigned roles,” said Alaiya.
The coaching crew have decided to replace injured Umar with First Bank of Lagos central defender, Festus Ajah.
Ajah is said to have impressed national team scouts in some of his club’s games and now has an opportunity to make an impression at the national team level.
Meanwhile, the Cross River State Government has appealed to soccer fans to turn out in large numbers to cheer the Super Eagles when they take on the Harambee Stars of Kenya in their World Cup qualifying match.
Cross River State Commissioner for Youth and Sports, Mr Patrick Ugbe, made the appeal Tuesday in an interview with NAN in Calabar, ahead of the match.
The commissioner said a large crowd would be important for the match because the Eagles would also showcase the Africa Cup of Nations that it brought back from South Africa in February.
“We want the supporters, Eagles fans and residents of Calabar, to prepare to come out to support the team -- the African Champions.
“They should not forget that the team is also bringing the trophy they won at the last Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in South Africa to Calabar.
“The trophy will be displayed at the stadium on match day, so they should come out en masse to be a part of the AFCON experience by witnessing the trophy in Calabar,” stressed Ugbe.
He said that the government was doing everything within its powers to ensure a successful hosting of the World Cup qualifier.
“We are preparing; we are doing the normal thing to ensure that the stadium is ready for the team. At the last friendly between the Golden Eaglets and the Diamond Zebras of Botswana, we used the U. J. Esuene Stadium, Calabar to test run the facilities.
“We think we are ready to host the Super Eagles/Harambee Stars match on March 23. Everybody was impressed. The stadium is lush green; it is part of our culture to ensure that we maintain it regularly,’’ Ugbe said.