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Chelsea lock horns over Babayaro call.

Chelsea are on another collision course with the Nigerian Football Association over the release of Celestine Babayaro.

The international left-back caused a stir at Stamford Bridge when he returned late from African Nations' Cup duty in February. Now, he has been chosen to captain Nigeria's Under-23 team in an Olympic qualifier against Zimbabwe in Lagos on Saturday.

The call-up could rule him out of tomorrow's Champions' League game against Lazio and Saturday's Premiership clash with Southampton if Nigeria refuse to agree a compromise. But the London club have asked the Nigerian FA to let them keep the 21-year-old.

Chelsea's assistant manager Gwyn Williams said: 'This is an Under-23 game and not a full international, so we've written to them asking if it's possible for him not to be released.'

Olympic champions Nigeria, however, could insist upon the player's availability as they bid to defend the gold medal they won in 1996.

FIFA confirmed last night that the game commands international status and the five-day release rule applies. This means, officially, Nigeria could demand Babayaro jets into Africa today to prepare for the match, but Williams is confident this will not be the case.

Saturday's Premiership game, though, looks set to pose the main problem and if Babayaro heads for Nigeria to lead his country, it could reopen the controversy of his vanishing act earlier this year when he missed ten Chelsea games as a result of his African Nations' Cup commitments.
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Title Annotation:Football
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 21, 2000
Words:241
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