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Friday, January 20, 2006
World Cup losers have added incentive

Jay-Jay Okocha believes players who will miss out at the World Cup have an incentive to impress at the African Nations Cup in Egypt.

The tournament marks the end of the Bolton playmaker's international career with Nigeria, having taken the captain's armband and been one of the country's most influential figures over a 13-year spell.

Nigeria, like some other traditionally strong African countries, will not be in Germany for the World Cup, meaning the Nations Cup is the stage to showcase their talent.

The qualification of Ivory Coast, Angola and Togo for Germany also shows how strong and competitive African football has become.

Okocha said: 'It will be a good tournament as a lot of teams have improved over the years.

'Most of the so-called big sides are out of the World Cup, so they will be keen to make an impression.'

While his future with Bolton is up in the air, Okocha is adamant he will call it a day at international level after the Nations Cup.

He concluded: 'I have made it clear this will be my last tournament for the country.

'I will be doing my best for us so we can win it. Then I have to make way for the young players that are coming up. We have now got a very good group and the future is bright.'

Okocha, 32, is one of 28 British-based players in Egypt for the next few weeks, the competition kicking off today when the hosts take on neighbours Libya.

Senegal - with the largest British-based contingent of six, including Okocha's Bolton team-mates Abdoulaye Faye and El-Hadji Diouf - and Zimbabwe make up Group D with Nigeria.

The top two go through to the quarter-finals, making Group D the closest thing the tournament has to a `Group of Death', given that three of the teams have qualified for World Cups.

The tournament is arguably the most open of its kind in the world with any one of 10 or so teams legitimately aiming to win the final in Cairo on February 10.

Egypt - featuring Tottenham striker Mido - are a good bet as hosts but, as well as Libya, they must also tackle North African rivals Morocco and Didier Drogba's Ivory Coast.

In Group B, Cameroon - traditional powerhouses on the continent - face new powers Angola and Togo who, unlike the Indomitable Lions, have secured World Cup berths, as well as DR Congo.

And in Group C, Tunisia will fancy their chances against Guinea, Zambia and a faltering South Africa.

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