Mikel, Onazi, shine for Eagles

John Obi Mikel and Ogenyi Onazi were the training ground superstars as the Super Eagles continued the count down to the Nations Cup qualifier against Liberia on Saturday.

Mikel, who came in on Wednesday and trained in the evening of the same day, was again cynosure of all eyes as some fear for his fitness.
But the Chelsea of England midfield general came out smoking during the training.

The other player that gladened the heart of the coach was Lazio of Italy kid sensation, Ogenyi Onazi, whose midfield touches were near excellent, as Coach Keshi gradually zeroes in on his first eleven for the encounter on Saturday.

So far, its difficult to pick Keshi’s brains regarding the starting eleven, but from the closed session, Nigerians should expect some surprises when the list of probables is finally made public by noon on Saturday.

Ogenyi Onazi is poised to make his Nigeria full international debut tomorrow three years after he featured for the country’s schoolboys.

“I am here to do my best to see that we secure a ticket to the 2013 Nations Cup on Saturday,” Onazi declared on arrival for the Nations Cup qualifier in Calabar against Liberia.

He said it is a dream come true to be called up by the Eagles.

“This is a dream come true for me because that has been my ultimate ambition since I started the game. It is an honour and I will use my chance well,” he said.

“I will say a big thank you to God because without him, nothing is possible. To play for my fatherland is what I always wanted to do and so I’ now excited to now be part of the Super Eagles.

I will do my best to lift the team higher. I am sure we will be fine.”

It was only three years ago that Onazi and the Golden Eaglets reached the final of the FIFA U17 World Cup staged by Nigeria. They would lose the top prize to Switzerland.

Onazi was the Eaglets defensive midfield anchor but following a first-half capitulation in the opening match against Germany, coach John Obuh was forced to drop him and draft Ramon Azeez.

He was thereafter restricted to a cameo role at the tournament.

In September 2010, one of the Eaglets Class of 2009, Stanley Okoro, will win his first cap for the Super Eagles against Madagascar in a 2012 Nations Cup qualifier.

Onazi is now set to become the second such Eaglet to fly with the Super Eagles.

The player, whose versatility means he could play as a defensive or offensive player in midfield or defence, is riding on his showings this season for Italian club SS Lazio to aim for the top.

Last season, Onazi made his Lazio debut when he came on as a substitute against Atalanta. It was the breakthrough he needed to work his way into the club’s first team.

He has so far made four appearances in the Italian Serie A and he has featured in all three UEFA Europa League games.

Former Eagles striker Ayo Makinwa has been mentoring Onazi in Italy, where he also featured for Lazio, and he said the youngster has the character to go very far in the game.

“Onazi is a lively person and good player who believes in himself and is ready to learn, I am not surprised with his progress. He will go places with his qualities and character,” remarked Makinwa.

It was only a year ago that he failed to make the cut to the FIFA U20 World Cup in Colombia after he was part of the Flying Eagles training squad in Portugal and Panama.

Born in Jos, little Onazi started with the Pepsi Academy in Jos, where I played for just six months, before he joined El Kanemi Junior FC of Jos who produced Chelsea star Mikel Obi, Joseph Akpala, Chinedu Efugh, late Henry Ihelewere, among others.

One of the coaches who nurtured this rough diamond, Bala Musa aka Haji B, told MTNFootball.com that Onazi was one of the most dedicated players in his time at El Kanemi.

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