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Mikel urges Nigeria officials to embrace ‘proper planning’

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Football

Mikel urges Nigeria officials to embrace ‘proper planning’

NEWISSUES, Abuja

Chelsea’s John Mikel Obi has urged Nigeria’s football authority to embrace ‘proper planning’ and learn from recent mistakes, as they bid for a third successive World Cup appearance in Russia.

The Super Eagles landed in Zambia barely 22 hours before their 2018 World Cup qualifier on 9 October after financial problems delayed the squad.

Nigeria, captained by Mikel, won Olympic bronze despite arriving just hours before their first match in Manaus because of transport issues.

“I don’t think anything can beat the problems that we faced at the Olympics. I don’t think any team or country can go through what we went through in Brazil and perform the way we did,” Mikel told BBC Sport.

“I think it’s a miracle [their unorthodox journey to Olympic football bronze] and I don’t think it will ever happen again.

“To arrive at a tournament a couple of hours before your first game and still end up with a medal was an outstanding team performance.

“I wouldn’t say it’s the same problem [arriving on match day] we are facing now, but it is still the same issues that need to be sorted out,” said Mikel.

Three-time African champions Nigeria are top of Group B in their qualifying race for Russia after a hard-fought 2-1 win in Zambia.

But Mikel, who made a scoring debut for his country at the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations against Zimbabwe, believes hitch-free preparations will boost their chances of clinching the group’s sole ticket.

“For us to succeed we need to put things in place as early as possible and let the players focus on football, and not dealing with issues like flight and other things off the pitch,” he said.

“This is where my experience comes in and make sure I keep the team together. I don’t let whatever is happening outside distract the team,” Mikel added.

Pay rows have often surrounded Nigerian teams with players boycotting training at major tournaments over unpaid bonuses.

As the most experienced player in the current squad with 72 appearances, Mikel is keen to avert such an embarrassing situation.

“I try to take in all the problems, I deal with it myself and I only speak to the players when there is good news.

“I’m sure that’s what they always want to hear from me, I listen to them, we make decisions together – at the end of the day I have to have a final say on what we have to do.

“Sometimes you only need one voice, with a single voice I think everything goes smoothly.

“With the experience that I have, I will make sure whatever is happening off the pitch doesn’t affect us in these qualifiers.”

Olympic bronze medallist winner, Mikel has played for Nigeria at four Africa Cup of Nations tournaments in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2013.

He won the 2013 Nations Cup title in South Africa and was a member of the team that reached the second round at the 2014 World Cup.

-BBC Sport

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