Super Eagles and Changchun Yatai striker, Odion Ighalo, is remorseful but bold in his appraisal of the team’s performance at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia and a painful exit from the tournament through the 2-1 defeat to Argentina in their last Group D match on Tuesday, June 26 2018. Completesportsportnigeria.com’s NNAMDI EZEKUTE was at the Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg and captured his mood in this interview. Excerpts…
What was the experience of playing in the 2018 FIFA World Cup like?
First and foremost, I want to thank God for an injury-free World Cup outing in Russia. Out of almost 200 million Nigerians, It’s a privilege to represent the country at the World Cup.
However, It’s sad that we went out in a bad way, losing to Argentina in our decisive last group match. It was a sad day for me, sad day for the team and a sad day for the country.
We deserved more in the match. We had a penalty which the referee didn’t give us. I also missed a couple of scoring chances that could have won the game for us. That’s football for us. Sometimes you lose like this and sometimes you win.
I want to apologise to my teammates and to Nigerians for the loss. I take responsibility for those goals missed. It has happened, and we all should put that behind us and move forward.
Did anyone criticise you in the dressing room for the missed goals?
No, no one criticised me in the dressing room. You know it’s team work. We were 23 players fighting to make Nigerians proud. No one in the team blamed me for the loss. Even if anyone has criticised me, I would take it in good faith. Criticism is part of football. As a footballer, if you don’t take criticisms and handle them in positive manner, then you’re not doing your job well. So, I’m ready to take whatever criticism that may come upon me now because of Nigeria defeat to Argentina. I believe that life has to go on despite what happened. Life won’t end here. I believe that I have better days ahead.
Take the Super Eagles’ loss to Argentina aside, what is your opinion about the overall performance of the team in Russia?
I am very proud of this team because we have been united and working together. No problem of any kind in the team.
We put up a great fight against Argentina, from the beginning to the end. It is my sincere wish that we continue going forward with this great team unity. We have great young talents who will make this team stronger in future. We have a better future with this team.
Are you disappointed not scoring in your first World Cup after turning out well for Changchun Yatai in the Chinese Super League?
I gave it my best shot, but it’s not always about goals. Yes, every striker wants his name on the scoresheet to fully justify his selection. However, playing for the team team to win is better than any other personal goal. We worked hard together as a team in Russian, but it is sad that we couldn’t reach the Second Round of the tournament. That’s my only regret. I am happy being selected to represent about 200 million Nigerians. We can get better as a team representing the country in future competitions.
Your fans are anticipating your return to a bigger league in Europe following your impressive output so far for Changchun Yatai. What is in the offing for you in this regard?
I am happy at my club. Everything is fine. Yes, a switch that will make everyone happy will be done at the right time. That’s what I can say now about it. I said earlier that I believe there is a better future for me. That’s my belief too about the Super Eagles and my teammates at club level. I’m positive about this. We have very good young players.