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The 2014 FIFA World Cup

Emenike’s long walk to stardom

EMENIKE-ETHIOPIABRASÍLIA, June 28- Emmanuel Emenike travelled a long road to get to Brazil, at times even on foot, and once stopping at a Turkish cell, but he made it to the World Cup.

It was a close run thing and there were times when such a scenario seemed more than just unlikely.

Yet at 27 years of age, Emenike will lead the line for Nigeria against France in the World Cup last 16 on Monday.

It was his goal against Malawi in a 2-1 World Cup qualification victory, following a brief international exile, that helped Nigeria through to the play-off round in which they ousted Ethiopia.

Emenike had then done enough to earn not just a place in Sephen Keshi’s squad but also his starting line-up.

A year ago that had seemed unlikely after Emenike, suffering from a groin problem that regularly kept him off the pitch, had a row with both Keshi and the Nigerian Football Association (NFA).

Emenike publicly rebuked both for their lack of interest in his injury issues and was subsequently kicked out the team, missing the Confederations Cup.

That was both a huge blow and an untimely one, coming so soon after his starring role at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, in which he finished joint top scorer, alongside Ghana’s Wakaso Mubarak, as Nigeria won the title.

Out in the cold, that could have spelt the end of the line for Emenike at international level but Keshi needed him and a recall came for the crucial Malawi match.

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His goal helped change Nigeria’s destiny and ensured his own tortured path to the World Cup would at last end in joy.

The long road began at Delta Force in the town of Asaba in the Niger Delta, where Emenike faced a 90-minute round trip on foot just to get to training and back.

Although if there was one positive omen, it was that he trained at the Jay Jay Okocha stadium, named after one of the country’s greatest ever midfielders.

At 20, Emenike headed to South Africa and the professional game to try his luck with first Mpumalanga Black Aces and then Ajax Cape Town.

He caught the attention of European spies and a move to Turkish outfit Karabukspor ensued, where he notched 30 goals in 50 games, winning the second division title in his first season.

But the controversies began when a Turkish tabloid accused him of being older than was claimed, and Emenike sued.

Istanbul giants Fenerbahce came calling but that dream move soon turned sour as Emenike was embroiled in a match-rigging scandal that saw his club banned from European football for a year.

Emenike was accused of involvement in match-fixing and even spent a night at a police station for questioning.

Fenerbahce found a quick-fix solution to the problem and sold the Nigerian to Spartak Moscow in Russia, before he played a match.

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But there Emenike was the victim of racist abuse and even served a ban for responding to his tormentors with an ill-advised hand-gesture towards fans of Dinamo Moscow.

Two years after arriving in Moscow he was acquitted of any wrong-doing back in Turkey due to lack of evidence, and he made a triumphant return to Fenerbahce, winning the Turkish Super Lig in his first season.

Now, not only is he back and playing in a World Cup knock-out round but rumours would have it that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is an admirer and lining up a bid.

It’s been a long road for Emenike but he’s probably starting to think it’s been worth it.

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