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Nigeria paying the price, says Okocha

Posted by by on 2005/08/25 | Views: 507 |

Nigeria paying the price, says Okocha

After featuring at the last three FIFA World Cupô finals, Nigeria's participation at next summer's showpiece in Germany is anything but guaranteed, as captain Jay Jay Okocha admitted to

After featuring at the last three FIFA World Cupô finals, Nigeria's participation at next summer's showpiece in Germany is anything but guaranteed, as captain Jay Jay Okocha admitted to

With two matches to play, the Super Eagles are tied on 15 points with Angola at their top of their qualifying group but sit second thanks to their inferior head-to-head record. Bolton Wanderers playmaker Okocha, Nigeria's scorer in their 1-1 home draw with the Angolans in June, believes they have only themselves to blame for their predicament and laments the lack of continuity that cost Nigeria the chance to build on their success in the 1990s. What do you think about your results in qualifying for Germany so far?
Okocha: I think it's been a bit disappointing because we know that we can do better than what we've done so far and we only have ourselves to blame because we took some games for granted. We are still hoping and we believe we still have a good opportunity. It's not only in our hands now, though, and we are hoping that we might be a bit lucky as well and Angola will slip up.

Have you been surprised by how well Angola have done?
Well, not really. African football has progressed over the years and we haven't got weak teams any more in Africa. I believe that the only difference now is there are still some countries that have more experienced players and more players playing in Europe. I wasn't surprised, as I know that every team in Africa is difficult to play against.

Would you say that Angola are now favourites to win your group?
It is now between Angola and us and of course they now are favourites.

Who would you say the best team in Africa are at this moment in time?
It is hard to say because on a good day any team can beat another team. It is difficult but we still have three or four teams who are still dominating African football.

Who are the best young Nigerian players around at the moment?
If you look at the way (John Obi) Mikel played in the World Youth Championship (where Nigeria reached the final) without any doubt he has got a promising future. There are also players like (Joseph) Yobo and (Ayegbeni) Yakubu. There are a lot of them but our problem has always been about continuity and having the patience to keep these players together and build them up. I hope maybe we can start doing that.

Nigeria have changed coaches quite regularly. Do you think that has had an impact on the national side in recent years?
I think so. We've lacked patience. I hope maybe we've got it right this time round and that we will stop changing coaches and players.

In the FIFA World Cup in 1994 and the Olympics in 1996, everyone said Nigeria were the next big thing. Why do you think it hasn't happened for you since then?
It is the continuity that I was talking about - we didn't build on that, we didn't build on what we achieved then. Instead we just thought our talent would see us through. We've paid the price and hopefully we will learn from that and build on what we've got now.

At the 1998 FIFA World Cup there were some interesting stories about your then coach Bora Milutinovic and his motivational skills. What exactly did he do to motivate you?
The one thing that he did that touched all of us was the video that he showed us. Without us knowing, he went around meeting our families and getting goodwill messages for us and the day he played it, we were all really surprised.

In 2002, there seemed to be some tensions in the Nigeria camp at the FIFA World Cup. How difficult was it to play in Korea/Japan?
It was difficult because as a player I felt really bad about the way some of my colleagues were treated. Most of the players who got us to the World Cup were not there and it didn't show us that we, the players, had a future in the national team. We thought that the same thing could happen to us as well. It was a difficult moment and it was no surprise that we didn't qualify from our group.

Having played in Germany, do you think it is a good idea that the World Cup is going to be there next summer?
If you look at the German league, almost all the games are sold out now so football is at the top level in Germany, and I think it is nice (the World Cup will be there) because it is a footballing country.

Finally, when do you think an African team will win the FIFA World Cup?
Well, hopefully in 2010 because it is in Africa and I really wish that an African team could win it.

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