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South Africa may field Nigerian against Nigeria in World Cup qualifier

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As the destiny-shaping World Cup qualifying  encounter of Nigeria and South Africa approaches, the South Africans have discovered a new sensation in their fold who is of Nigerian origin.

Nigerian-born Ime Okon has caught the attention of football followers in South Africa and there is great pressure to draft him into the Bafana Bafana squad before Nigeria calls him up.

Okon, a 20-year is  is one of the breakthrough young stars for SuperSport United this season together with Shandre Campbell, holds dual citizenship because his father is Nigerian and his mother is South African.

He plays for SuperSport United as a central defender. Bafana Bafana legend Andre Arendse has urged South Africa to be decisive and secure the future of highly-promising youngster.

He has been named in provisional squads a few times by Bafana coach Hugo Broos but he is yet to earn a cap, and Arendse is concerned South Africa may lose a “super talent” to rivals Nigeria.

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As a sign of his burgeoning career, the tall central defender has made 18 appearances for coach Gavin Hunt in the DStv Premiership and has tasted continental football with six appearances in the Confederation Cup.

“Ime Okon is the next one on the radar [of Ronwen Williams when it comes to development] and I don’t want to hype him up or put him out there and say he is the best because he is only 20,” said Arendse, who is assistant coach to Hunt.

“He is a super talent but I am not intending to put pressure on him though I know he can handle it. He is starting to prove he can handle pressure during games and we need to look after him.

“You spoke about dual citizenship and we better be careful we don’t lose him because he is definitely one for the future. I know what I am talking about because I have had the privilege of playing behind some of the best defenders in South Africa.

“I don’t need to mention names, you guys know who I am talking about, but I am telling you in a few year’s time he’s going to be up there.”

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Arendse was speaking as United prepared to travel to Richards Bay for their tricky Nedbank Cup last 16 clash.

Okon’s club-mate, Thulani “Tyson” Hlatshwayo has also joined a growing list of personalities urging South Africa to be decisive and secure the future of Okon. 

“To be able to crack the Nigerian national team, he needs to play in Europe — but we need him in Bafana Bafana. When you look at our centre backs, Mothobi Mvala has injuries, there is also Grant Kekana and Siyanda Xulu — and I read Siyabonga Ngezana had an issue with his travel documents, but I don’t know what is happening there. 

“His father is from Nigeria and mother from South Africa. He grew up here, he studied here and coach Gavin Hunt took him from Randburg Football Club. He is South African and he speaks Afrikaans.” 

Hlatshwayo said there is banter among players whenever South Africa plays against Nigeria and he has jokingly threatened not to help him if he supports the Super Eagles against Bafana. 

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“Every time there is Afcon, when Nigeria is playing he is with Nigeria and when South Africa is playing against Nigeria we have a lot of banter in the team. I told him I am going to stop helping him if he chose to play for Nigeria because there are things in his game that need to be polished.  

“The more he plays, the more experience he is going to get and he will do well. I don’t know if it has something to do with him being young but he is quick and strong and we complement one another very well.” 

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

World Cup

BREAKING! Finidi George formally resigns

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

Nigeria Super Eagles’ coach, Finidi George has resigned from his post as Super Eagles’ coach, two days after the Nigeria Football Federation announced it was going to employ a foreign technical adviser.

A source close to Finidi told Sports Village Square that Finidi sent his resignation letter to Ibrahim Gusau “3o minutes ago.”

 Finidi was said to be livid that the NFF leadership met with the sports minister two days ago, but failed to mention that players reported late to the camp and that they didi nothing to mobilise Nigerians in Cote d’Ivoire to come out to support the Super Eagles in last Monday’s match with Benin Republic.

“He complained that the NFF heaped all the blames on him”, said the source.

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  Calls to NFF officials to verify the information were not answered.  

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World Cup

UPDATE: NFF may spare Finidi George

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Under fire Super Eagles’ coach, Finidi George may excape sack afterall. A source close to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) told Sports Village Square that Finidi may not be sacked.

 He would however work under the foreign technical adviser that the football governing body is planning to hire in the next few weeks.

  The source who was privy to the Wednesday’s ‘hybrid mode’ meeting of the NFF informed that Finidi George will be designated as ‘Chief Coach’ while the expatriate will be the technical adviser.

It is however unclear how the NFF will foot the wage bill of the technical adviser, who may also come with his personal crew as Finidi George  also already have his own foreign assistants.

There is also no word on the loud absence of Daniel Amokachi who was designated as Finidi George’s assistant, but failed to show up at the Super Eagles’ camp leading to the ill-fated World Cup match day 3 and 4 encounters with South Africa and Benin Republic.  

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Mali sack head coach Eric Chelle

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Africa Cup of Nations - Round of 16 - Mali v Burkina Faso - Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium, Korhogo, Ivory Coast - January 30, 2024 Mali coach Eric Chelle REUTERS/Luc Gnago/File Photo

Mali have fired head coach Eric Chelle, the West African nation’s soccer federation said on Thursday.

In a statement, reported on national television, it gave no reason for the decision but the sacking comes days after Mali were held to a goalless draw by 10-man Madagascar in a Group I World Cup qualifier in Johannesburg.

“The executive committee of the Malian Football Federation, meeting in extraordinary session today unanimously decided, with the agreement of the supervisory authority, to end the collaboration between the coach of the National Team Senior, Mr. Eric Sekou Chelle and the federation,” the statement said.

Chelle, 46, born in the Ivory Coach to a French father and a Malian mother, was brought up in France. He played at club level mostly in France and for Mali at the international level where he made five appearances between 2004 and 2006.

He was appointed as Mali’s head coach in May 2022 and led the team to the quarter-finals of the 2023 African Cup of Nations held in Ivory Coast earlier this year.

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Before managing Mali, Chelle’s previous coaching experience was at Martigues and Boulogne in the French lower divisions.

-Reuters

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