Returnee Bursaspor of Turkey utility star Abdullahi Shehu has welcomed the renewed competition for places in the Super Eagles ahead of this weekend’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Libya.
Shehu, 25, is making a return to Nigeria’s team after his maiden World Cup appearance in Russia in the summer and spent some time with www.aclsports.com on Friday morning. An injury kept him out of Gernot Rohr’s side for last month’s qualifier in Seychelles but the former Kano Pillars star is back and in line to make a starting return to the side.
Competition for places in the team has become more intense as few new faces have emerged since the end of the last World Cup tournament. In the current group, three players can play as specialists right back – Shehu’s position in the team for the past two years – while recognised centre backs Chidozie Awaziem and Semi Ajayi played in that role against Seychelles. Shehu believes it is a welcome development.
“As players, it is always good to have a challenge and it’s also good for the coach to have some options,” Shehu told www.aclsports.com
“For me, I think it’s not about who plays but the result. If I have the chance to play, it’s not that I’m better than the other guys, it’s just that I have the opportunity to be there so I just have to do my best and then in the team, we are like a family.
“We don’t care who plays, we just want to win. For me, it’s good as a player to have some challenge, it will push me also to work hard. If I am not playing, then I will have to work more hard to make sure I get the chance to play,” added Shehu
Return from injury
Shehu played the whole duration of Nigeria’s opening World Cup game in Kaliningrad, a 0-2 loss to Croatia. The budding philanthropist has however not played a competitive football match since then until last weekend when he returned from the injury that kept him out for two months. He cannot quantify his happiness in returning to the pitch.
“I feel very happy to return from the injury. Of course as a player, I was always thinking about it and looking forward to returning to the pitch again so I feel very very happy about it. I am here now and feel very happy about it.
Like Cameroon, like Libya
Around this time last year, Nigeria faced Cameroon in a double-header World Cup qualifier in the same city of Uyo and days later in Yaounde. Four points from both fixtures left Nigeria home and dry in the race to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Shehu played full ninety minutes in both games and with another crucial double-header against Libya at hand, the Sokoto-born star states that players in camp are aware of the task and while using the Cameroon games as a point of reference, he believes they will get the job done.
“We the players all know about the game and how it is like for Nigerians and we as players know what is at stake. We did it when we were meeting Cameroon and it’s not going to be easy but we have to do everything to make sure we win the game so I think all the players know about the importance of the task including the new players and we are ready for this.
“If we really want to be at the Nations Cup, we have to beat them home and away, that’s it. The players know about it, we all know and we just have to go there and do it,” he stressed.
On new players
A couple of players will be sharing the dressing room with Shehu for the first time on Super Eagles assignment. Bordeaux’s Samuel Kalu and Paderborn’s Jamilu Collins just joined the team after the World Cup while a few others like Isaac Success and Henry Onyekuru are not too familiar with the senior national team.
Shehu who has represented Nigeria at Under 20 and Under-23 levels says the players know that they have little time to work and impress to justify their invitation.
“The new players are professionals and the national team is the national team. It is not somewhere you come and say you need time to get yourself, No. I think the players know that also and if you watch our training and see how they play, they know what they are doing and I think they are ready also for it,” concluded Shehu.
Nigeria’s game against Libya will kick off at 4pm local time at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo on Saturday while both teams will meet again in Sfax, Tunisia on Tuesday, October 16, 2018.
Fisayo Dairo reporting from Uyo.