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Friday, April 16, 2021

Take it Eze: Nigeria FA demands less pressure on Crystal Palace winger

7:16 AM GMT

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    udoh colin

    Colin UdohSpecial to ESPN

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      Itinerant writer. Engineer in a previous incarnation. One time Black Belt. Lover of football, flirter with other sports.

Crystal Palace midfielder Eberechi Eze is under massive pressure to decide between Nigeria and England, and the player needs to be left alone to make a decision, say the NFF.

After watching him post a series of stellar performances for Palace in the Premier League, the Nigeria FA have admitted that they would want to see Eze switch allegiance and play for the Super Eagles, but say they will not ‘beg’ him.

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Eze, born in England to Nigerian parents, represented the Three Lions at under 21 level. But through his parents, the 22-year-old also remains eligible to represent Nigeria at senior level and does not yet have a senior cap either way.

NFF president Amaju Pinnick visited with the starlet in 2019 in a bid to convince him to pick Nigeria’s green and white strip over England’s white and red.

NFF Vice President Seyi Akinwunmi told ESPN that the NFF had done what it needed to do by approaching Eze, but it was now up to the winger to make up his own mind.

Akinwunmi said: “His parents, I believe, said he is just starting his career so we should let him establish himself and then they would take it from there.

“It appears to me that he would want to play for Nigeria, but again, there is a lot of pressure on these players who play in England.

“There is a lot of pressure on them to play, even if it is once for England. We would keep talking to him if he wants to play; we don’t beg anyone to play for Nigeria. We would just ask him again and if he is willing to, he would be invited.

“We see him, we think he is a good player. He is a Nigerian, he is entitled like any Nigerian playing anywhere to play for Nigeria.”

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2:13

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Colin Udoh and Ed Dove discuss Eberechi Eze’s transfer from Queens Park Rangers to Crystal Palace.

After a slow start to life in the Premier League, as Crystal Palace eased him gently into the top flight, Eze is now showing what made him such a coveted prospect while he was in the Championship with Queens Park Rangers.

Against West Brom in early December, he came away with the most touches, most ball recoveries and most penalty area entries. He was also tied for most chances created, most duels won, most crosses and most fouls won.

Just after the New Year, he was back again, opening his 2021 with a spectacular solo goal against Sheffield United that could be in contention for goal of the season.

Receiving the ball in his own half within minutes of coming on as a substitute, Eze turned inside one defender, glided past another and then, from just outside the box, curling the ball past a third defender and the goalkeeper to double Palace’s advantage.

That goal, and his performance in that game, set Nigeria social media alight, and prompted fans to again harangue the NFF to do whatever it takes to get the player to play for the Super Eagles.

Those calls were amplified even further when he showed up against Arsenal, creating more chances and completing more dribbles than any of the other 22 players on the pitch as the Eagles left the Emirates Stadium with an unexpected draw.

Within Gernot Rohr’s coaching staff, the sentiment is the same as the NFF’s: Leave the kid alone.

“We talk to him regularly, almost every week and all he wants is for us to help him take the pressure off,” a source told ESPN.

“The more pressure is put on him, the harder it will be for him to decide.”

Akinwunmi’s optimism about Eze’s potential to lean towards his Nigerian heritage is borne out by the player himself.

When fellow diaspora player Joe Aribo scored on his Nigeria debut against Brazil, Eze’s reaction on Twitter was to say “Proud” with two heart emojis.

Akinwunmi was clear, however, that even if Eze decides to plump for the Super Eagles, he would still have to earn his spot.

“He would have to come to camp and fight for a shirt. A Nigerian is a Nigerian, if you’re entitled by the law to play for Nigeria, then it does not matter.

“You want the best players because you also want to win.”

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