New Telegraph

Playing For Super Eagles Will Be A Dream Come True – Izuchukwu

Izuchukwu Anthony, a Nigerian defender playing in Serbia for Radnički Kragujevac and a former Super Eagles invitee has opened up about playing against Cristiano Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia and his aspirations for a future call-up to the national side.

Speaking in an exclusive interview sighted by New Telegraph, Izuchukwu said it has been incredible to play football overseas.

He was asked, First of all, you have played in some parts of Europe and Saudi Arabia. How’s been your sojourn abroad since you left the country in 2016?

He responded, saying, the most valuable part of my trip has been the experience I’ve had from Norway to Israel, the Czech Republic, Saudi Arabia, and back to Serbia.

Since playing football is what got you there and different countries have different challenges, you must always push past your limitations. After all, it is your profession.

I became used to playing in different ways while I was in Europe. It was on a whole other level in Saudi Arabia, and I’m glad I left my imprint everywhere I played.

What was your experience playing in Nigeria before moving abroad?

Not long after you moved abroad, you represented Nigeria at the youth level and you were also called up to the senior national teams, how does it feel to still wait this long for a first Super Eagles appearance?

It has always been my desire to play for Nigeria, and I’m happy to have accomplished that at the U-23 level. Also, it doesn’t really matter how long I’ve waited for the Senior team call-up.

I have been investing in my personal growth in many leagues because what I have been doing while I wait is more significant. Basically, I’ve been getting ready for my national team call-up and I think I’ll be a valuable addition to Nigeria’s defence when the time comes.

How was the experience at the U-23 level?

Playing for Nigeria at the U-23 level was a huge experience and no matter the level, it was a great honour to represent the country. Somehow, I always feel the few games I played at that level opened the door for my Super Eagles invitation under coach Genort Rohr. It was an amazing time under coach Imama Amapakabo.

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You guys missed the 2020 Olympics. How did you feel after crashing out in the group stages of the U-23 AFCON in Egypt then?

I honestly feel we could have achieved more. We had the potential, but things didn’t just go as we desired. We knew the Olympics ticket would have made some difference for many of us.

It would have gone a long way towards propelling the careers of many of us. It is our dream as footballers to ensure the results make people happy while we also make progress in our careers.

After six years in Europe, you moved to Saudi but only spent a year before returning to Europe. Why?

I had a one-year contract with an option to extend but I still wanted to explore Europe more at that time. Leaving was a hard call for me because I enjoyed playing in Saudi.

From your experience in the Saudi league, what do you think of what they are trying to build by attracting some of the best players in the world?

I think they are in the right direction with what they are trying to build with their football. It’s becoming more competitive and I think in the next couple of years it will be one of the top 10 leagues in the world.

They have the money and they are investing in facilities. Aside from that, they also have citizens who love football and I think the authorities are using the presence of superstars to make things more interesting.

How’s the weather?

Saudi Arabia’s and the Middle East’s weather in general is something to get used to. Just picture yourself having to play football under such circumstances. It will undoubtedly be challenging; the organisers are aware of this as well, which is why the match times are carefully planned.

We train hard, and most of our games are played at night when the weather is milder. Even when we have to utilise the gym, it’s usually at night. Every one of these helps players deal with the weather conditions, and it wasn’t any different for me.

You’ve played against Cristiano Ronaldo. What was it like to defend against one of the most prolific goal-scorers in football?

I could say it was one of the best moments in my career. When I saw him during the game, I felt challenged, because he is at the level I aspire to be. I know it was a game to test my ability. Eventually, the game ended 1-1. As a matter of fact, we scored very early in the fourth minute and we could have scored more. We were just determined to get something out of the game.

What ran through your mind each time you tried to contest the ball with him?

Before kick-off, I felt that finally, the day to put myself to a real test had come, I promised myself it would be a game to remember. So, my reaction was, to go get him and I did that every time I had to. I just did my job well and his name began to ring in my head again after the game.

How was it like to also play against Odion Ighalo and also have a Nigerian brother around?

It was great, I played against him in April 2023 as well. In fact, he scored both goals as they won 2-0. He had played a year in Saudi before I joined and he is an amazing person on and off the pitch.

So how competitive would you say the Saudi League is?

Due to the number of well-known players that have moved to Saudi Arabia, the league is now quite competitive. It’s not simply that these clubs and their owners are wealthy; it’s also that they were able to articulate their desires and follow through on them.

During the little time I was a player there, the level of competition was really high. In actuality, player transfers marked the start of the competition. Now, Saudi teams not only compete with one another for the best players in Europe, but they also sign these players when other European teams show interest in them.

Now in Serbia, what’s the ambition of your team, Radnički Kragujevac and how do you hope to help them achieve that?

Radnicki is a club with great traditions, we expect to finish in the top four and make one of the European competitions. I’ll continue to put in the work as well.

Back home, the AFCON is coming up soon. Did you wish you were invited to camp by the Super Eagles?

If I had been called up for the AFCON in Ivory Coast, it would have been a dream come true. Even though I’m not on the team, I will undoubtedly cheer them on. I’m a Nigerian first and a football player second. I’ve also previously camped with the senior football team as a player, and I anticipate having the opportunity to do so again soon.

Do you think Nigeria has too many players abroad that we don’t even get to know which ones are the best except those in the big leagues?

Nigeria is a huge footballing nation, and as such, we produce amazing talent both domestically and internationally. Since not every player will be able to play for the national team, I cannot say that we have too many.

While it’s a dream to play for your country’s team, some foreign players aren’t even going there to get recognition in their own country.

Finally, how do you rate the chances of Nigeria winning the AFCON again?

Winning the AFCON again is what Nigerians want. I believe the Super Eagles understand this and have the chance this time to win the title. I don’t see any nation stopping us.

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