- Published on Monday, 20 November 2017 12:39
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By George Akpayen
Ikechukwu Batholomew Ibenegbu has declared that he is looking to keep up from last season by continuing his goalscoring act from dead-ball situations when the 2017-18 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season gets underway on 14 January 2018.
Last campaign, Ibenegbu, nicknamed Mosquito, was one of 27 players who scored direct free kicks and two out of the three free kicks he scored helped his club Enyimba to finish in the top-three which secured them a place in next year's edition of the CAF Confederation Cup.
Ibenegbu opened up to npfl.ng that he had an infrequent opportunity of practising free kicks last season since most of the training routines were focused on the entire team.
"I only play it (free kick in training sessions) whenever infringement occurs because we play 11-a-side, and most of the time, I score up to 80 per cent (of my free kicks)," he said.
GBENGA OGUNBOTE'S INFLUENCE
Apparently, Ibenegbu's accuracy from dead-ball situations prompted Enyimba head coach for last season Gbenga Ogunbote to take interest in the free kick specialist.
According to Ibenegbu, Ogunbote, who has now signed up with Oriental rivals, Enugu Rangers, played a role in encouraging him to focus on becoming the Peoples Elephant's free kick specialist last season.
He said that opened the chance to have an intermittent free kick drill while they played at the UJ Esuene Stadium in Calabar which played host to their home games while their Aba stadium was under lock owing to renovation.
"My coach (Ogunbote) usually do call me out after training to come and practice it," Ibenegbu revealed to npfl.ng. "So I practised it while we were in Calabar."
Those rare free kick sessions earned the two-time CAF Champions League winners six points as Ibenegbu scored three of his seven goals last season from set-piece situations. He scored direct free kicks against league champions Plateau United, Niger Tornadoes and Lobi Stars.
PICK OF LAST SEASON'S FREE KICKS
So which is the best of the three free kicks in Ibenegbu's books? The former El-Kanemi Warriors and Heartland FC man settled for his winner against Lobi Stars in a tightly-contested Matchday 30 game. Enyimba had come off a one-nil defeat at Oriental rivals FC Ifeanyiubah the previous matchday and Anthony Okpotu's early goal for Lobi was cancelled out by Mfon Udoh's strike with the game heading for a draw at home.
In the third minute of added time, Enyimba won a free kick in front of Lobi's goal area and Ibenegbu knew it was his chance to give his team the full points as he bent the ball beyond the reach of the Lobi goalkeeper for the winner.
"The unforgettable one (free kick) was against Lobi Stars in Calabar because we were losing by a lone goal at some point, then Mfon Udoh equalised for us late in the game. Then, in added time I scored the free kick that gave us the three points and for me, it was the 11th wonder goal," said Ibenegbu.
Indeed that goal was later voted one of the wonder goals of the NPFL season.
MOSQUITO GIVES TIPS ON HIS FREE KICK ROUTINE
However Ibenegbu offered a scant hint on his routine before he takes a pop at the opposition's goal whenever there is a dead-ball situation given as a direct free kick.
The Supersand Beach Eagles player explained his routine before the kick thus: "First I usually will watch the position of the goalkeeper, then concentrate on the ball and hit it."
When the new season gets into its second month, February, Ibenegbu would have turned 32 as he is now regarded as one of the most experienced players to have graced the top division in the country.
Surely Enyimba and their faithful will be looking to Ibenegbu who got his nickname of Mosquito for his lean physique but deadly precision in front of goal as a midfielder to keep the act of popping up with goals from set play when the going gets tough for the Peoples Elephant who will compete on three fronts - the NPFL, the AITEO Cup and the CAF Confederation in 2018.