Confederations Cup: Nigeria squad in ‘strike’ row

Italy forward Stephan El Shaarawy poses in front of the Christ The Redeemer statue above Rio de Janeiro. Picture: AFP/Getty
Italy forward Stephan El Shaarawy poses in front of the Christ The Redeemer statue above Rio de Janeiro. Picture: AFP/Getty
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NIGERIA are due to arrive in Brazil tomorrow to take part in the Confederations Cup, 24 hours later than scheduled, after a row over bonus payments saw the squad – including Celtic defender Efe Ambrose – holed up in a Namibia hotel yesterday.

A telephone call between Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke and an unnamed Nigerian official broke the impasse after the 23-man squad refused to travel to the tournament in what was effectively a strike.

“I’ve spoken with the team manager and they will be in the plane on Saturday and they will arrive for the Confederations Cup. The problem is solved,” Valcke said in Rio de Janeiro.

Nigeria were supposed to leave Windhoek for Johannesburg a day after drawing 1-1 with hosts Namibia in a World Cup qualifier. They were to connect with a flight to Brazil, where they are representing Africa at the eight-team, two-week Confederations Cup tournament. But the players refused to leave their hotel in a row over payments for points garnered in the World Cup qualifiers against Namibia and, earlier, Kenya. Bonuses had been cut in half from $10,000 to $5,000 by the Nigerian Football Federation, local sources said, in what was presented as a cost-cutting measure.

“They are declining to leave,” said Namibia FA general secretary Barry Rukoro as the situation unfolded. “They were supposed to go at 11 am this morning but they say they are owed money by their association and want it sorted before they will leave the hotel. Their officials all departed on an earlier flight this morning but the players and the technical staff are still here.”

Nigeria are due to play their first game in the tournament against Tahiti in Belo Horizonte on Monday.

It is the second major controversy to rock Nigeria since they won the African Nations Cup in South Africa in February. Coach Stephen Keshi resigned the day after they won the title, telling South African radio station Metro FM that there were continual efforts by unnamed officials to undermine his work.

However, he was persuaded to change his mind in a tawdry affair that took some of the gloss off Nigeria’s triumph.

Strike action is nothing new in Africa and is often used as a tactic by players desperate to secure promised payments.

Meanwhile, hosts Brazil have had little chance to practise with the official ball being used at the Confederations Cup because the team has stuck with the ball produced by its main sponsor, Nike.

The Brazilian football federation denied yesterday that sponsors had played a role in determining how the team prepared. The players only started practising with the ball produced by Nike’s German rival Adidas on Tuesday, four days before their first game against Japan in Brasilia. The federation said the team used Nike balls only because they were the matchballs for recent friendlies against England and France.

“The players needed to get used to the Nike ball for those matches,” Brazilian federation spokesman Rodrigo Paiva said. “Now they are practising with the Adidas ball.”

Now Brazil’s players are racing against time to get used to the Adidas ball, which one Brazilian player said is going to cause problems for goalkeepers.

“For us, the strikers, this ball is wonderful,” said striker Fred. “When you shoot, it swerves three different ways and then goes into the net. The goalkeepers will suffer with it for sure.”

Brazil will also play Mexico and Italy in Group A. Spain, Uruguay, Tahiti and Nigeria are in Group B.

Cesc Fabregas aims for treble

CESC Fabregas is aiming to help Spain complete a clean sweep of major international silverware when the reigning world and European champions go for glory in the Confederations Cup.

Spain head into the eight-team tournament in Brazil having enjoyed unprecedented success over the last seven years, winning the European Championships in both 2008 and 2012 as well as lifting the World Cup for the first time in 2010.

However, they fell short in their last bid to win the Confederations Cup four years ago in South Africa when they suffered a shock semi-final exit at the hands of the United States, and Vicente Del Bosque’s men are determined to go all the way this time.

Fabregas told Marca: It seems a less significant competition but for us it’s very important. I’m very proud with what we’ve done, but we need to continue. This team never settles [for what it has achieved]. We want the Confederations Cup. This generation deserves to have all the titles.

“The more you win, the more you want. We have the advantage of knowing what it takes to win, what it means to win. The team is ready to continue along this line.”

Spain have been drawn in Group B, alongside Copa America champions Uruguay, African Nations Cup holders Nigeria and minnows Tahiti, who last year won their first OFC Nations Cup title.