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‘I’m glad I came back to India to play’

In a short career spanning four years,21-year-old Chukwuma Udofia has seen the highs and lows of professional football.

In a short career spanning four years,21-year-old Chukwuma Udofia has seen the highs and lows of professional football. After five Man of the Match awards for Air India in last season’s I-League,Udofia decided to go back to Nigeria due to payment issues. Without a contract till three months ago,Udofia returned to Indian soil once more as ONGC’s latest foreign recruit.

“I am glad to play for ONGC and to return to India,” the central defender told Sportline after the Durand Cup qualifying match against Army Juniors which ONGC won 2-0 on Monday. “I performed very well for Air India and won a few Man of the Match awards too. But I believed I was not being paid enough. So after I finished my one-year contract with them,I decided to go back home,” the Nigerian said.

Having signed with ONGC just days before the Durand Cup kicked off,Udofia claims that he has his targets clearly etched out by the management for this season. “They want me to take ONGC into the I-League. Since I have the experience of playing at the highest level,I am sure that I can make a difference,” he said.

Adjusting to the team’s game-play,believes Udofia,is the key to performing at the level expected of him. Having played with his new team mates in only two matches at the Durand Cup,the Nigerian claims to be still finding his feet with the team. “After the first match,my team mates praised me for my game,but I wasn’t happy with it. I have set the bar very high for myself and nothing less than that will do. Today,against Army Juniors,I was much happier but I am finding my feet,” the 21-year old said.

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With the Cooperage in Mumbai as his home ground once again with ONGC,Udofia is already familiar with the surroundings. “I know the place well and it won’t be long before I get my rhythm going,” the defender said.

Although he is known for his defensive abilities — as Army Juniors found out on Monday — Udofia began his career as an attacking midfielder back in Nigeria. Three years back,as an 18-year-old,he played in the under-20 Nigeria squad. In the middle of a dream run after having helped Nigeria qualify for the Under-20 FIFA World Cup in Canada,Udofia was also an integral part of the Ocean Boys FC squad which won the Nigerian Premier League (NPL) in 2006.

Just as his career was beginning to unfurl for the better,Udofia picked up an injury during his preparations for the World Cup,preventing him from traveling to Canada with the rest of the squad. Once he recovered from the injury,Ocean Boys coach Tunde Disu convinced Udofia to convert into a defender. “Disu read my game well and thought I would be much better as a defender with my built. I was spotted for my defensive abilities by East Bengal and so I came to India,” Udofia said.

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After featuring in only two friendly games for the Kolkata-based club,Udofia moved west-ward to Mumbai and signed with Air India. “East Bengal took very long to sign the contract. I am not the kind of a player who can wait on the sidelines. I need to constantly play football. Air India signed me up last season and the rest as they say is history.”

BSF to play ONGC
On Monday,ONGC beat Army Juniors 2-0 at the Ambedkar Stadium in the second match of the Group D qualifying round of the Durand Cup. End-to-end football dominated the proceedings initially. Buta Singh,the Army Juniors goalkeeper,had his hands full in the later stages of the first half as ONGC began to take control of the match. A flurry of attacks and shots on target mainly due to the efforts of Baba Tunde B followed,but ONGC were still unable to find the back of the net in the first 45 minutes.

It took them only three minutes into the second half to break the deadlock as Tunde drilled a low cross into the net. Army Juniors’s Luv Kush managed to break against the run of play on a couple of occasions,but without the support of his team mates,soon found himself outnumbered by the opposition defenders. Phoolchand Hembram doubled the lead for ONGC a minute before full-time to drive home the advantage.

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One match away from qualifying for the main draw of the tournament,ONGC will play BSF — who beat GRRC 3-1 in the day’s first match — in the final knock-out match on Wednesday.

First published on: 08-09-2009 at 12:28:05 am
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