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September 15, 2000
Nigerian coach blasts FIFAWinsor Dobbin
Jo Bonfrere, the coach of Olympic soccer champions Nigeria, on Thursday blasted the sport's international governing body FIFA.
Bonfrere argued FIFA was failing to enforce its own rules on the release of players by clubs for international matches -- and also attacked leading clubs, including Arsenal, saying they were being selfish.
The Nigerians opened the defence of their Olympic title with a 3-3 draw against Honduras on Wednesday night and need a win against hosts Australia in their second game to keep alive their hopes of retaining the title.
Bonfrere said his team's preparation for the Olympic tournament had been damaged by the unwillingness of leading European clubs to release over-age players and by teams refusing to release other players until the last minute.
Each team in the Olympics is allowed three players over the age of 23, but top clubs were reluctant to release their big names to play here.
"FIFA need to be stricter with their rules and take the Olympic tournament more seriously," Bonfrere told a news conference.
"A team like Nigeria has no chance if FIFA are prepared to let the big clubs get away with flouting the rules. The clubs don't respect the rules. No one respects the rules."
Arsenal's Nwankwo Kanu, Jay Jay Okocha of Paris St Germain and Sunday Oliseh of Borussia Dortmund were among the over-age players Bonfrere was planning to recruit, but all were put under pressure by their clubs to stay put.
"Kanu promised us he would play here and that was the case until the very last moment when Arsenal put pressure on him," Bonfrere said. "They put him in a position where it was impossible for him to play for us."
Bonfrere said members of his squad were still arriving in Australia on Monday night -- less than 48 hours before the side's opening game.
"It is up to FIFA to take action against clubs who do not release players as they are required to under the rules," Bonfrere said. "If they don't then next time the clubs will push it even more.
"The club are selfish and won't even look at the big picture. With the overage players we had a very good team -- and we were counting on Kanu."
There is still a Kanu in the Nigerian team -- Ajax defender Christopher Kanu, a 20-year-old who is disappointed not to be playing alongside his brother here.
"It was hard for my brother because he wanted to play for Nigeria, but maybe that's the way God wanted it to be," Christopher Kanu said.
Kanu and Chelsea defender Celestine Babayaro both concede Nigeria face a tough task in qualifying for the quarter-finals after only drawing with Honduras.
"We didn't start well but we finished well after being 3-1 behind," said Kanu. "Everyone wants to beat Nigeria now because we are the Olympic champions and it will be hard against Australia."
Defender Victor Agali, who plays in Germany for Hansa Rostock, felt the Nigerians had been careless against Honduras.
He said: "Now we have to win both our remaining matches, but in football anything is possible."
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