Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi
By Olawale Ajimotokan
Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi, Tuesday night rebutted insinuations that the restoration of John Mikel to Nigeria’s roster for the Africa Cup of Nations tie against Liberia was because of pressure from high quarters.
Mikel was named among the 38 foreign and home-based players for the crucial engagement billed for Calabar on October 13, marking his return to the national camp since November 2011.
The Chelsea midfielder is yet to figure for the Eagles under the watch of Keshi, after his celebrated refusal to play a friendly match against Botswana last November in Benin City because the game was on an artificial pitch.
The last time he was deployed for Nigeria was in the friendly match against Ghana in London on October 11 2011, which was coincidentally the last match Samson Siasia in charge as the coach.
After his meeting with the members of the NFF Technical Committee, Tuesday, Keshi told reporters he offered to include Mikel after the holding midfielder assured him of his availability, when they spoke three days ago.
“I spoke with Mikel three days ago and he convinced me was ready to play for Nigeria and be part of the team that will beat Liberia for the Nations Cup ticket. I don’t have problem with Mikel, he has always figured in my plan. I know he is in form and he told me that he was ready to play for his country. Nobody forced him on the technical crew,” he defended.
He similarly said there would be no hiding place for the Lone Star in Calabar in the all West African tussle. Keshi said he was unfazed by the decision of Liberia to pitch a training camp in Ghana ahead of the visit to Nigeria, saying the Eagles would rise to the occasion.
“They can camp anywhere they wish. Their training programme in Ghana is no treat and that won’t insulate them from an imminent defeat when they visit Calabar. If they like, let go to the Moon. I do not need to monitor them, we just need to concentrate and I believe that the boys will make Nigeria proud. We just have to manage ourselves and plan well for the match. We will settle the matter in Calabar,” Keshi vowed.
He also noted that his decision to increase the number of foreign based players called for the last assignment in Monrovia from 11 to 15, was in response to the tactics of the Liberians.
According to him, the Liberian team last month largely comprised of home based players. But surprisingly, ahead of the trip to Calabar, Liberian officials have mobilized their large army of foreign based players.
Apart from Mikel, Joel Obi of Inter Milan was also one of the players that staged a return to the Eagles, while Onazi Ogenyi , who plays for Lazio in Italy, was handed his first international call up.
Ogenyi, a forward, was a member of the U-17 team that reached the final of FIFA U-17 World Cup at Nigeria 2009 under the watch of coach, John Sam Obuh.