Okocha looking to go out on a high with Nigeria
PORT SAID, Egypt, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Jay-Jay Okocha wants to end his Nigeria career on a high by steering the team to the African Nations Cup title.
The 32-year-old midfielder said he considered quitting the national side after their surprise failure to qualify for the World Cup but opted to stay on for a few more months.
'I thought about it but then I realised the only thing we've got left is this Nations Cup and I might as well come and help and see if we can win it,' he told reporters at the team hotel.
'This will be my last tournament,' said the Bolton Wanderers playmaker, who won the Nations Cup in 1994.
'I want to enjoy my last years in club football and I'd like to stay up there and keep competing.
'I don't want to be suffering because of the international matches I would be playing.'
Okocha, voted best player of the last Nations Cup in Tunisia, missed out on Nigeria's winning start to Group D against Ghana due to a thigh injury picked up in a pre-tournament training camp.
Though he believes Friday's game with Zimbabwe will be too early for a return, Okocha gave himself a 'slight chance' of making their final group game against Senegal on Jan. 31.
The Super Eagles may already have qualified for the quarter-finals by then.
'I don't want to aggravate it again,' he said. 'But it would be good maybe to have some minutes to get match practice...especially if there's no pressure.'
Nigeria were under pressure to win on Monday and only made the breakthrough when left back Taye Taiwo slammed home an 85th-minute free kick in a laboured performance at Port Said.
'I think we did okay considering we haven't played together for a while and that for some of the players it was their first Nations Cup game,' Okocha said.
'The second half showed that things will get better, we are getting to know each other more and are playing better as a team.'
He also defended a subdued performance by 21-year-old Inter Milan striker Obafemi Martins, who has a near goal-a-game average with nine strikes for his country and made his Nations Cup debut here.
'I think he's a big asset for us even though he didn't have his best game against Ghana,' Okocha said.
'We know he can do better than that. The way we rate him, we expect him to carry the team and I think he will be able to do it.'
Okocha also has confidence in a number of promising Nigerian players, singling out Taiwo, defensive midfielder Yusuf Ayila and fellow midfielder John Obi Mikel, sought by Chelsea and Manchester United.
'I think he might be even better than people think,' Okocha said of teenager Obi Mikel. 'His kind of player is very rare to find now, a natural talent.'