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NFF sweats, as surgery keeps Mikel from FA Cup


* Iceland pulls out of friendly

SUPER Eagles’ midfielder John Obi Mikel’s fitness has become a source of worry for the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), which fears that he might not be in top shape for Nigeria’s opening game against Argentina on June 12.

The Chelsea star will miss next weekend’s FA Cup final with Portsmouth, as well as Sunday’s crunch Premier League clash with Wigan Athletic after undergoing knee surgery. But the Plateau United former star says there is no cause for alarm.

The 23-year-old Nigerian suffered the injury during the Blues’ home victory over Bolton last month, and has missed the last three games as a result. A statement on Chelsea’s official website read: “Jon Mikel Obi has undergone minor knee surgery and will take no part in Sunday’s final Barclays Premier League match nor the FA Cup Final.

“The operation is due to an injury suffered when fouled by Bolton’s Kevin Davies last month and subsequently led to Mikel’s early substitution at Tottenham the following match.”

In Mikel’s absence, and with fellow midfielder Michael Essien also sidelined, Michael Ballack has filled in the holding role in past games, and looks set to continue in that role for the next few weeks. Mikel told yesterday: “I did my operation yesterday and it was successful. I will be back soon in two weeks.”

Mikel, who was also suffering from an ankle problem, added that the ankle was better: “My ankle is better now, but the knee was more serious and that is why it needed surgery.”

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has announced the cancellation of the planned friendly against Iceland, saying it would now meet Saudi Arabia in Austria on the 25th of this month. The federation said that Iceland pulled out of the tie, citing concerns about the volcanic ash cloud from Eyjafjallaj?kull.

“We will now play Saudi Arabia in Austria on May 25 rather than Iceland in London on the same date,” NFF Chief Media Officer, Ademola Olajire, said.

It is the most recent turn in Nigeria’s chaotic preparations for the World Cup, which has seen friendlies cancelled almost as soon as they are announced, but Olajire insisted that this was for real. He said: “The contract has been signed and confirmed and the game will definitely go ahead.”

This means that Nigeria will play Saudi Arabia on the 25th of this month, Colombia on the 30th and North Korea on June 4, barring further changes. Technical Adviser Lars Lagerback is expected to name his final squad on June 1.

The NFF also revealed that it would reject a proposal from South Africa for a game before the June 11 World Cup kick-off, saying the timing was too short. NFF Secretary General, Bolaji Ojo-Oba, said the request for a friendly on the 16th would be forwarded to Lagerback, but doubts if it would make any difference.

“There is no way we can get the players to report for the game since they are busy with their clubs,” he said. “Besides, FIFA rules stipulate that we send the request for the release of players at least 14 days from the date of the game. We only have 11 days from Wednesday and that is not feasible.”

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