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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 January, 2004, 19:23 GMT
Okocha regrets Martins absence
By Osasu Obayiuwana
BBC Sport

Obafemi Martins in action for Inter in the Uefa Champions League
Okocha said he has sympathy for Martins

Nigeria captain Jay-Jay Okocha has said that the decision of striker Obafemi Martins not to play at the Nations Cup could upset their title ambitions.

The in-form Martins opted to play for his Italian club Inter Milan, attracting criticism from fans who have questioned his loyalty to the west African country.

But Okocha told the BBC Sport website he has sympathy for Martins' position.

"We must accept his decision.

"I won't blame him because we have had this problem [of choosing between club and country].

"For Nigeria, his decision is bad news but it may be his chance to fight for a place in his team.

"When we have gone for previous Nations Cups, many of us have lost our club positions," Okocha recalled.

He might need the national team one day
Jay-Jay Okocha

"But on the other hand, he should realise that he might need the national team one day.

"He should consider the [interests of] the country as well," Okocha advised.

The midfielder and other England-based players in the Super Eagles were given permission to report to camp after the 6 January deadline set by manager Christian Chukwu for other European-based players.

But the Bolton Wanderers captain said he is yet to have a firm date on when he will leave his club to report for international duty.

"I may have to stay a bit longer and help my team, because we have a small squad unlike other Premiership clubs."

Okocha said he is aware of the discomfort that his absence and that of other England-based players is having on their supporters but insists that their late arrival to camp will not frustrate the Super Eagles title ambitions in Tunisia.

"I don't think that our late arrival will have a negative effect on the team, since we have all been playing and are quite fit.

"We are still one of the favourites and with the talent we've got, we have a chance to win the Cup," Okocha said.

Martins pulls out of Nations Cup
03 Jan 04  |  African
Nigeria warn Martins
05 Jan 04  |  African

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