Ex-Nigerian soccer star Okafor kills self in Texas

LITTLE ELM, TEXAS (AP) - Uche Okafor, a defender on two Nigerian World Cup teams and a stalwart player for the Kansas City Wizards in the U.S., committed suicide this week at his Dallas-area home, authorities said Friday. He was 43.

Okafor’s body was discovered Thursday afternoon by his wife in their house in Little Elm, a town about 30 miles northwest of Dallas, Detective Oscar Hinojosa said. The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office said Friday that he hanged himself in an upstairs hallway.

A friend who could not reach Okafor called Ifeyinwa Okafor, the former star’s wife, police said.

“She was at work and she came home and found him,” Hinojosa said.

Okafor played on the 1994 Super Eagles team that won the African Cup of Nations.

Nigeria reached the second round of the World Cup that year and again in 1998, with Okafor on the team both times. He didn’t play in 1994 and played in one match in the first round in 1998, a 3-1 loss to Paraguay after they had beaten Spain and Bulgaria. He didn’t play in the second-round loss to Denmark

“We are totally shocked by the news. Uche Okafor was a great player who represented his country at the highest level,” said Musa Amadu, acting secretary general of the Nigerian Football Federation.

Okafor was with the Wizards from 1996 to 2000, playing in 119 regular-season games and seven Major League Soccer playoff games. His professional finale came on Oct. 15, 2000, when Kansas City beat the Chicago Fire for its only MLS Cup championship.

When Okafor retired before the 2001 season, he was one of only three Kansas City players to have competed every season since the Wizards‘ inception in 1996, the team said.

“I’m terribly sad to hear of his passing,” said Ron Newman, Wizards manager from 1996 through 1999. “He was a big, strong guy, but he was very pleasant and I found him to be very professional. He was just an absolute gentleman.”

“I wouldn’t like to be on the wrong side of him if I was playing against him,” he said. “He took no prisoners. But he was fair in everything he did; fair play and good guy. If he knocked you over, he’d pick you up and dust you down.”

Kerry Zavagnin, an assistant coach with Sporting Kansas City _ the Wizards changed their name last year _ played with Okafor during Kansas City’s championship season.

“I’m shocked and saddened,” he said. “He was a great teammate and most importantly, he was certainly a great man. This is a sad loss for all of us.”

Okafor had worked for ESPN the past two years, providing analysis of African soccer. His contract had been renewed last month.

“We are deeply saddened by news of Uche Okafor’s death,” the cable network said. “He was well-respected for his insightful analysis on ESPN Soccernet Press Pass. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and fans.”

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