Former Nigeria midfielder Friday Ekpo has backed Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi’s decision to take Babatunde Michael, Waasland-Beveren attacker Reuben Gabriel and former Newcastle striker Shola Ameobi to this summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
Keshi has come under increasing criticism for naming the players in his 23-man squad for the tournament starting in the South American country on Thursday.
The former Togo coach, who dropped Sunday Mba, Nnamdi Oduamadi, Ejike Uzoenyi, Obinna Nsofor, Daniel Akpeyi, Joel Obi and Nosa Igiebor from his 30-man provisional squad, has insisted he picked his final 23-man list based on merit.
Babatunde, 21, scored two goals in 17 appearances for Volyn Lutsk in the Ukrainian Premier League last season while 32-year-old Ameobi, who was released by Newcastle last week, also scored two goals for the English club. And 23-year-old Reuben, who joined Waasland-Beveren from Scottish club Kilmarnock in January, made only three appearances for the Belgian side in the just-ended season.
But Senegal ’92 Africa Cup of Nations bronze medallist Ekpo insists the players deserve their place in the World Cup squad and believes they can justify their inclusion.
“The players picked for the World Cup are our best and we should respect Keshi’s decision,” the former Abiola Babes and Iwuanyanwu Nationale star told our correspondent on the telephone during the week.
“We shouldn’t crucify Keshi or condemn any of the players picked for the tournament because we don’t know what happened in their training camp.
“The coach knows why he picked Babatunde, Ameobi, Reuben and other players whose inclusion is being condemned by some people.
“He must have seen something in them in training and believe they will fit into his style of play or his tactics.
“We shouldn’t write them off yet. They could perform in Brazil if given the opportunity to play.”
He added, “Keshi has his reasons for dropping the seven players who were on his 30-man provisional list.
“He has the right to drop any player if he doesn’t fit into his plans. We shouldn’t put him under pressure because he didn’t pick certain players. He can’t pick more than 23 players for the tournament.”
Ekpo, who was dropped from the USA ’94 World Cup squad, feels bad about Igiebor missing the World Cup.
The Real Betis midfielder was on the scoresheet once in six Spanish La Liga appearances for Los Verdiblancos (The Green and Whites) after being plagued by injuries.
“I feel for him; he’s a good player and I love him as a person,” Ekpo said.
“I believe he deserves to be in Brazil but the coach has his reason for leaving him out of the squad.
“I also feel for (Obinna) Nsofor. He’s a good player. But the coach has my support for dropping any player.
“The Eagles will perform at the World Cup without the players some people believe deserve to be in Brazil.”
The former Gabon-based player hailed veteran defender Joseph Yobo’s inclusion in the squad, saying his experience would help the team.
He said,”Experience is the best teacher. Yobo’s experience will help our defence and midfield.
“I don’t think Yobo (33) is too old to play in the World Cup. If Spain can pick Xavi (34) and England picking Frank Lampard (35), we have no excuse not picking Yobo when he’s still good. Dino Zoff was 40 when he helped Italy win the 1982 World Cup in Spain.”