When Nigeria wrapped up qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia on Saturday in Uyo, centre back William Troost-Ekong achieved a statistical compliment of being the only member of the team that completed ninety minutes in each of the five group games played so far.
That, is a great achievement for a player who twenty months earlier was deemed “too soft” to represent the three-time African Champions.
The Bursaspor of Turkey defender spent some time alone with our Chief Football Writer, FISAYO DAIRO after the excitement of Saturday’s nervy victory over Zambia during which he made some interesting revelations about his international career.
Switching allegiance to Nigeria
Born to a Nigerian father and a Dutch mother some 24 years ago, William played for The Netherlands up to the Under-20s before a phone call from former Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi (late) helped him to switch allegiance to the West African nation. “Ha! Not easy o,” Ekong interjected when asked how difficult or not it was to switch to Nigeria.
He wanted it though and that was what mattered. “I wanted to play for Nigeria and as soon as Stephen Keshi called me in 2015 and asked if I was interested, yeah, it was a dream come true to play for Nigeria against Chad that time.”
Two years after his debut
Nigeria’s Nations Cup qualifying victory over Chad in Kaduna, Troost-Ekong’s maiden appearance for his fatherland came in June 2015. The defender who has since featured for the country at the Olympics and with a World Cup qualification spot in the bag feels vindicated in his decision to play for Nigeria. He also hopes to add a Nations Cup appearance to that very soon.
“Qualification for the World Cup two years after only proves that it was the right choice,” he proudly asserted.
“We’re going to be at the World Cup and hopefully this will be the beginning and we still have more to come, also to go to the AFCON and do well there. I played at the Olympics last summer so yeah it’s coming on nicely now.”
On Rio Olympics and Sunday Oliseh
Troost-Ekong has grown to be an important part of the Super Eagles since that debut two years ago. However, it has not always been rosy for the Tottenham Hotspur trainee in the national team who at a point was frozen out by the then national team handler, Sunday Ogorchukwu Oliseh.
“The Olympics was like a restart for my international career. I was part of the Super Eagles until Sunday Oliseh took me out because he said Oyibo boys are too soft. I hope he’s watching his TV now and see us going to the World Cup.”
“No ill feelings, I saw him at the Olympics last year and we spoke briefly. He didn’t believe in me then but I think Nigerians can see now what I can do.”
Partnership and friendship with Leon Balogun
After Nigeria’s sensational win over Algeria in November 2016, fans of the team coined a nom de plume to celebrate the new found defensive partnership between Ekong and Germany born Leon Balogun.
Both players have since grown in their friendship which has seen them always paired in same hotel room sometimes during national team duties. But the friendship now goes beyond the national camp.
“Leon is like a brother to me,” Troost said with a wink at Leon. The nice thing is that we have similar backgrounds. He’s half German and I’m half Dutch and we both chose to play for Nigeria. I think that’s the link we have and we have a good understanding. I speak to him a lot away from national camp also, so when we play together it’s very nice because we understand each other very well.”
Hopes on World Cup
Having played a pivotal role in Nigeria’s qualification for their sixth World Cup appearance, Troost-Ekong is now focusing on representing Nigeria in Russia and more so, to make an appreciable impact.
Nigeria is blessed with an big pool of talent available as more players switch allegiance from Europe countries. Troost-Ekong also believes it’s important the squad keeps fit and are kept for the global assignment.
“I’ll be hoping that I’ll be in good form and I hope that Coach Gernot Rohr will call me up for the World Cup squad and I hope other guys that are here now are in good form and fit.
“That, I think is very important and yes when you’re looking forward to a tournament like that you also want to make a mark as well so we’ll be hoping to do very well there,” he summed.
Troost-Ekong and his Nigerian teammates have one more game still to play in the qualifying series against Algeria in November but are assured of qualification.