As the countdown to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia begins, thenff.com caught up with Super Eagles’ defence Trojan, William Ekong.
In this exclusive interview, the rock-solid defender said he was excited about Nigeria’s qualification for the World Cup in Russia next year, the upcoming dead rubber against Algeria, and the top –notch friendly against Argentina in Krasnodar, Russia. Excerpts:
Thenff.com: With the World Cup qualification sealed, how have you been feeling with the upward trajectory of your football career, and what feeling has the qualification created in you?
Ekong: It is a big achievement for Nigeria and for me to qualify for the World Cup. It has encouraged me to continue to step up my game in preparation for the World Cup, and of course, at the tournament itself.
Thenff.com: Now, we play Algeria in the last game of the qualifiers. How should we approach the game?
Ekong: We should aim to finish our World Cup qualifying campaign unbeaten and again use this as a game to improve as a team.
Thenff.com: Preparations have kicked off in earnest with Argentina being the first test. Are you any wary about playing against some of the best ball magicians in the world, and what do you think about the game for the Super Eagles?
Ekong: No, I am excited. To be competing against the very best in the world and probably my generation, is something to look forward to. But that level of respect is where the Super Eagles should be too, so this is a chance for us to test ourselves.
Thenff.com: Can you say playing for the Super Eagles and against African opposition, coupled with working with the kind of players in the Coach Rohr-tutored side has toughened you up, and are you also flexible and more experienced to pair up with anyone in defence apart from your main partner Leon Balogun?
Ekong: The experience garnered playing for the Super Eagles has been life –changing for me. Facing some of the best forwards in Africa, whilst having to perform and deliver for such a football-loving nation like Nigeria is a pressure that improves you as a player. I enjoy being with the team, and working with quality players. Playing alongside someone like Leon Balogun with his quality has definitely helped, but I would feel just as comfortable playing next to anyone now.
Thenff.com: What teams do you hope for as we look forward to the World Cup Draw on Dec 1? Do you think there are teams we should avoid and can you tell us the ones you want us to avoid?
Ekong: I am not scared to play against any team. But of course, we hope for a favourable draw. We have to believe in ourselves just like we did in the qualifying campaign. Many doubted us winning a group with Cameroon and Algeria, and look where that got us!
Thenff.com: The World Cup is the biggest football tournament in the universe. Has playing at the Rio Olympics (and as the only player who played every minute) spurred you for the challenge to make the final squad for the World Cup and eventually play in it?
Ekong: Yeah, that was an unforgettable experience. I am very happy with our ticket for the FIFA World Cup but now I am focused on performing for Bursaspor in the next 7 months, together with the Super Eagles’ friendlies in order to be fit and ready next summer. I want to be on that plane to Russia and make Nigeria proud again like we did in Brazil last year.
Thenff.com: Finally, realistically, which stage do you think Nigeria can get to at the FIFA World Cup in Russia?
Ekong: I think we have a very hungry and exciting squad now and realistically, we should be aiming for the knockout stages and just take it game by game.