Nwakaeme puts Cup exit aside to chase Asian glory

He's one of the hottest strikers in South-east Asia, whose goals have helped take Pahang into the knockout stages of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup and to the top of the Malaysia Super League (MSL).

But Dickson Nwakaeme is quick to quash speculation that he is keen to pursue Malaysian citizenship to become the nation's answer to ex- Singapore international Agu Casmir.

The 29-year-old Nigerian has played in the MSL for the past three seasons after a successful career in Finland and Denmark.

"Getting a Malaysian passport is not something that I'm thinking about, to be honest," Dickson said. "While I love Malaysia, Nigeria is still the country in my heart when it comes to international football."

Dickson's dream of playing in a third consecutive Malaysia FA Cup final was shattered last weekend when holders Pahang lost 2-3 on aggregate to struggling Kelantan, conceding the killer goal in the 92nd minute after playing an hour with 10 men.

Kelantan will face Singapore's LionsXII in tomorrow's final.

But the AFC Cup - Asia's second-tier club competition - has brought out the best in the powerful forward whose ability to keep possession up front and bully defenders has Pahang believing they can become the first Malaysian club to make the final.

With six AFC Cup goals in the group stages, Dickson is the competition's joint-second top scorer. He will be a key man when Pahang travel to Persipura Jayapura of Indonesia in the round of 16 next Tuesday.

"I want to win the AFC Cup so badly," he said. "For me, it is as good as playing in the Europa League in Europe.

"I made the second round of the AFC Cup with Kelantan in 2013 but I think we can go further with Pahang."

Dickson's path to South-east Asia is an unlikely one and it happened after he became fed up with what he described as "dishonest" agents in Europe.

"I just wanted to get as far away from Europe as possible," he said. "I knew that I was good enough to play in the better leagues and I had interest from Germany and Holland.

"But, for whatever reason, it didn't work out so I thought I would give Asia a try."

In April 2012, he signed a five-month contract with Vietnamese League champions Song Lam Nghe An FC, came on as a substitute for his debut and scored in the 93rd minute.

He moved on to Malaysia in 2013 and, after spending a year with Kelantan, with whom he won the Malaysian FA Cup and lost 0-1 in the Malaysian Cup final to his future employers, he joined Pahang.

The goal-scorer in that Cup final was Argentinian forward Matias Conti, who is now his strike partner at Pahang in one of the most feared combinations in the region.

"At first we didn't play together so well and it has nothing to do with the fact that Matias speaks just Spanish because football is a universal language," Dickson said. "But now it is much better."

The new rule in Malaysia this season that allows four foreigners to play together at the same time means Dickson and Conti are no longer competing for two of the three foreign import spots in the starting XI. Ex-English league defenders Zesh Rehman and Damion Stewart are the other non-Malaysian players in the squad.

Coached by Malaysian football great Zainal Abidin, Pahang have put a slow start to the season behind them to sit two points clear at the top of the MSL table. Last month, they beat the LionsXII 3-2 in Kuantan.

Pahang won both Cup competitions last season with Dickson at the heart of their success.

After scoring the winner in the 2014 FA Cup final against Felda United, he grabbed both goals in last November's Malaysia Cup final as Pahang beat Johor Darul Takzim in a penalty shoot-out in front of 90,000 fans at Bukit Jalil.

"I've played for Aalborg against Odense, which is a big match in Denmark, but the Malaysia Cup final was amazing; the biggest crowd I've ever played in front of," he said.

"With four foreigners now able to play at the same time, the MSL is getting better and better."


This article was first published on May 22, 2015.
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