Super Eagles defender Leon Balogun is still in awe of the team’s display in the annihilation of Cameroon in a 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier on Friday.
Balogun was at his colossal best at the heart of the Western African nation’s defence against the Lions, once again brought solidity and assurance to a department that came under fire after a loss to South Africa in June.
www.aclsports.com Chief Football Writer, Fisayo Dairo spent some time with the FSV Mainz 05 defender at the Eagles’ Ibom Le Meridien Hotel base in Uyo after Friday’s victory and spoke on a wide range of issues concerning the national team and his position with them.
On the win over Cameroon on Friday night
“It’s a great win. I don’t know, I have to check my dictionary again and try to find the right words because actually I’m lost for words because this is way more than we could have asked for.
“We were expecting a tough challenge and it was a tough challenge but I think we had the right answers to the questions the Cameroonians gave us. I think we needed to find our game in the first 10-15 minutes but ever since, we were in there and the whole team did just amazing.
It was incredible. I think this was one of the best, if not the best game I’ve ever played with the Super Eagles.
On his Influential presence
Nigeria have now outclassed two highly rated opponents in Balogun’s last two games – the win over Algeria in November and Friday’s win over Cameroon.
With no disrespect to the players that featured in games preceding those two, there were stark differences to Nigeria’s demeanour in those games to those Balogun anchored. Balogun, always a meek professional however takes nothing for it.
“I don’t know,” he shrugs, answering if there was any thing that exudes from him into the team whenever he is present.
“I did not play in Zambia because of injury, so I don’t think it has too much to do with me.
“Of course the connection between me and William Ekong is special and that’s a bonus, and an advantage but I think every single player there always do their job. Against South Africa, they still did well maybe they were not just focused enough in two situations and that was everything.
“It’s always about the team and today (Friday) the team showed great spirit again. Everybody was there for another, fighting for each other. It was an amazing and outstanding team performance and I would not take it for myself because I’m just one out of the 11.”
Looking ahead to Monday’s game
Nigeria have maximum nine points from their first three games, one of just two teams in Africa to have such record at the moment. The Eagles will make a short 90-minute trip to Yaounde on Monday to face-off with the team they bruised so badly three days earlier. Balogun (a name that means leader in Nigerian Yoruba language) however sues for more focus still.
“I said it before Friday that the pressure is not on us and now it’s even less. We still want to win and get the three points but we don’t need to force it, all we need is to just go there because we’re comfortable now.
“If we have another chance to take 3 points, we will take it. But me as a person, I will only be comfortable once I know that the ticket is in our pocket and so far there are 3 games more.
“It’s best we stay humble, to stay focused, there is no need to party yet. Just recover, enjoy the moment, celebrate in a quiet, peaceful way but if we get the three points on Monday then we can start to be relaxed.”
On his preferred position
During Leon’s early days with Nigeria’s Super Eagles, he was often deployed at the right back position by Nigeria’s former coach, the late Stephen Keshi. Now that he is an accomplished centre back with the team, he told us where his preference lies of the two positions.
“Centre back, always,” he affirmed.
“I never learnt to be a right back,” adjusting his gaze to give a background on how he came about playing as a right back.
“It was just that when I signed my first professional contract at Hannover 96, I played at centre half but they saw me recover the ball somehow on the left side, broke free and almost resulted to goal. So they asked if I could also do it on the right and I said for sure since I’m a right footer.”
“That was my entrance into professional football as a right back but they realized quite fast that I’m not a full back but I’m a centre half so they put me back in that position.
“I’m grateful to have been able to play there (right back) because it has somehow helped my breakthrough at new clubs like Dusseldorf and I Bundesliga but I am a centre back,” he concluded.