Stand-in Super Eagles’ skipper, Ogenyi Onazi, in this interview pleaded with Nigerians to give them a second chance to remedy the damage done them by South Africa, promising that the Eagles would regain their reckoning globally. Excerpts:
Having lost the opening game in the AFCON 2019 qualifying series, do you think the Super Eagles stand a chance of making it to the Nations Cup tournament?
Our loss to South Africa was unexpected and very disappointing, after we failed to qualify for the last two editions of the competition. We wanted to make an impression by qualifying in grand style. So we were desperate to win the first game of the series, but unfortunately the least expected happened on the day. So, let me use this opportunity to plead with Nigerians for the loss and that they should not lose fate in us, as all hope is not lost. For us, it is a temporary set back as we shall bounce back.
So what can we ascribe the loss to as the captain of the side?
I have heard and read so many views on the social media. Some people said it was complacency and all that, but we were not. We wanted to win that match and we were determined but it is still a misery to everyone of us. We had a wonderful preparation in Corsica and Paris, where we won one and drew the other game against Corsica and Togo. So, it is still surprising that we actually lost to South Africa. But I’m sure we are going to review the game and correct all the mistakes ahead of the World Cup qualifier against Cameroon.
Do you miss the likes of Victor Moses, John Obi Mikel and Odion Ighalo?
They are all great players and I think we really missed them. It would have done us a lot of goods if we have them. Mikel is the team’s captain. He is a leader and he would have played a major role in that game. I’m not saying the other players are not good guy, but you know the added advantage we would have got if the players you mentioned are in camp.
Do you have the aspiration to become the substantive captain of the Super Eagles?
(Smiles) I better keep that dream for now. Mikel is the captain and we must give all the support to ensure his reign is a successful one. No put me in trouble o.
What’s impression have you about the young players in the team?
Like I said earlier, they are good players. I think Nigeria is blessed with a lot of talents and we must encourage them to become world class in the future. Henry Onyekuru, Victor (Osimhen) and Dele Alampasu are the future Eagles. We must keep them in the team also ensure that there is seamless transition from the old to the new players. It was a great experience having those guys in camp.
Can you share with us what the mood was in camp after losing to South Africa in Uyo?
The camp was like a ghost town. It was everyone to your tent. I’m sure you saw it yourself. Everywhere was very quiet. We were humbled. We all buried our faces in shame. But we were able to pull through it and tried to put it behind us and move on. So, for us qualifying for the World Cup and the Nations Cup is a must.
Is wrong selection of players, the bane of Nigeria against South Africa?
Well, I think while it is important to take a look at what went wrong in Uyo, which I know the technical crew led by Gernot (Rohr) are working on now, I also think it is important to get out of blame game fast and get set for the other games. So, what is important for me is how we respond in the next game and get back to winning ways.
Would you subscribe to the school of thought that the Uyo Stadium is cursed at the home ground for the national team?
Personally, I don’t think so. Uyo is in Nigeria and they are good people. They have a wonderful stadium and it is arguably the best in the country, but who am I to say no if the authority wants us to play elsewhere. But that we lost to South Africa in Uyo doesn’t make the stadium cursed. Is it not in Uyo that we beat Algeria? But let’s see what plans the Nigeria Football Federation have put in place.
Can you share your experience in the Turkish league after one season?
Yeah, the Turkish league is a totally difference experience. Football in Turkey is great. The support for the clubs is massive and unimaginable. I think I love every moment of last season and I hope to build on the achievement in the new season.
Which other European leagues do you want…
(Cuts-in) Definitely, the English Premiership. You recall I had some offers from some EPL sides, but the deal didn’t sail through. I still hope someday I will play in the England EPL. That’s the dream and I hope it comes to pass. However, I’m still a player of Trabzonspor and I’m keen to assist the club realise her dreams.