Babayaro's Nigeria gamble

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The Independent Football

Celestine Babayaro is ready to risk losing his Chelsea place at the start of next year to ensure he does not miss the chance of facing England at the World Cup finals.

The defender admits he is in a no-win situation before the African Nations Cup finals, which take place in Mali next month. His international career was interrupted by a dispute with the Nigerian Football Association over unpaid expenses. Chelsea were also unhappy that he was late back from the last African Nations Cup finals.

However, he was back in the national side for a recent friendly against Japan and does not want to miss out on next year's World Cup finals, when Nigeria are grouped with England, Argentina and Sweden.

The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, is unhappy about releasing Kanu for so long, but Chelsea are resigned to losing Babayaro, and Ipswich reluctantly accept they will be without Finidi George.

Although Babayaro will lose his Chelsea place to Graeme Le Saux , he still looks set to travel as all Nigerian players have been warned they risk losing their World Cup places if they do not turn up in Mali.

The full-back admitted: "It is hard. At the end of the day, I play for Chelsea. They pay my wages and they look after me. At the same time, I'm Nigerian and I play for the national team.

"You get in trouble either way. You just have to close your eyes and pick sometimes."

The Chelsea managing director, Colin Hutchinson, will seek dialogue with the Nigerian authorities, but accepts the club cannot prevent Babayaro from travelling to Mali.

"There is a training camp at the end of December and we certainly don't expect him to attend that as it is not an international friendly," said Hutchinson. "We will talk to the Nigerian FA about the whole situation but they have the right of release for him for the African Nations Cup.

"With the World Cup coming up next year, I would think that Baba would want to be involved in that as he would not want to risk losing his place."

Le Saux is expected to be back in contention to rival Babayaro for a starting role in tonight's Worthington Cup quarter-final against Newcastle after missing the weekend draw at Sunderland following two knocks to the head.

Boudewijn Zenden hopes to be recalled after flu. There is a doubt over Slavisa Jokanovic (ankle), while Marcel Desailly (Achilles) and Emmanuel Petit (ankle) are still ruled out.

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