The two Nigerian legends have refused to be drawn into the protracted conflict between the European nations
Nigerian football legends Austin Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu have confirmed their absence from the memorial match dedicated to the late football icon Ilya Vladimirovich Tsymbalar, Soccernet.ng reports.
Tsymbalar, who had represented both Ukraine (3 appearances) and Russia (28 appearances) during his career, was renowned for his technical prowess as a midfielder. Tragically, he passed away on December 28, 2013, at the age of 44.
The memorial match, organised to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Tsymbalar’s passing, has raised concerns as it appears to have taken on a political dimension amid ongoing hostilities between Russia and Ukraine.
Reports from Russian media suggest that several world-famous football stars, including Nigerian icons Taribo West, Kanu, and Okocha, had been invited to participate in the event.
However, Tsymbalar’s widow and son have expressed their strong opposition to the match, deeming it “blasphemous.”
They cite Russia’s military actions in Odesa, Tsymbalar’s birthplace and burial site, as a central reason for their objection.
Ukraine’s Tribune news portal have investigated the Russian claims of Okocha, Kanu, Taribo, and others attending the match.
Following phone conversations, Okocha unequivocally stated, “No, it is not true,” confirming his non-participation.
Kanu, through his representatives, also confirmed that he would not be taking part.
As of now, there is no indication that Taribo West, Fernando Meira, Emmanuel Adebayor, or several other invited players will attend the memorial match.
Former Belarus and Arsenal winger Aleksandr Hleb expressed his disappointment at the politicisation of the match, highlighting that he would have gladly participated if it had remained apolitical.
Hleb emphasized his respect for Tsymbalar as a football player, stating,
“I think that many people in Belarus and Russia really respect and value Ilya Tsimbalar as a football player.
“Very talented, many took an example from him and developed by watching his game. I looked at him; I was happy; my first steps were looking at him. There are football players who I remember in my childhood. Ilya Tsimbalar is one of them.”
It is worth noting that Austin Okocha recently showcased his football skills in a charity match alongside Ronaldinho and other friends, leaving a memorable impression on spectators.