Former Nigeria national team captain Austin Jay Jay Okocha is not impressed with the quality of the playing surface at the UJ Esuene Stadium in Calabar. The Super Eagles play their home games at the stadium and many have criticised the pitch, particularly after the African champions’ 2-3 defeat to Congo in a 2015 Africa Nations Cup qualifier last Saturday.
Okocha, who scored 14 goals in 75 appearances for the Super Eagles between 1993 and 2006, watched Nigeria’s game against South Africa in Cape Town on Wednesday and was quick to make comparisons with what he saw in Calabar. “(Nigeria versus South Africa). Beautiful compared to the Calabar match. How green grass can transform (and) beautify a match. Also allows players to express themselves,” Jay Jay wrote on twitter via his account @IAmOkocha.
Okocha’s comments about the pitch have not gone down well with the Cross River State government, owners of the UJ Esuene stadium. The state Commissioner for Sports Patrick Ugbe said the pitch in Calabar is not in bad shape. “The pitch is in good condition. It is a work in progress. We are in the process of resodding the pitch,” he said.
The Commissioner added that the Cross Rivers State government only allowed the Super Eagles to play on the pitch against Congo “in the interest of the nation”. “It was in the interest of the nation that we allowed the match to be played on that pitch in the first place because we are obvioulsy working on it. The coaches (of Nigeria and Congo) saw the pitch before the match and they expressed satisfaction with the state of the pitch so I don’t know what the issue is all of a sudden”. Nigeria’s next two qualifying games are at home to Sudan and South Africa and are expected to be played in Calabar.