Categories: Sports

Nigeria Gave Everything Against Algeria At 2019 AFCON But Was Unlucky – Onyekuru



Super Eagles forward, Henry Onyekuru, was on Channels Television’s Sports This Morning on Friday.

Onyekuru, 23, recently rejoined  French Ligue 1 side, Monaco, after a loan spell with Galatasaray in the Turkish Super Lig.

The forward who just celebrated his one-year marriage anniversary missed out of the Eagles team to the 2018 World Cup but was part of the Nigerian side that placed third, one year later, at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). 

He spoke on a wide range of issues including his best moments with the Super Eagles, how Nigeria lost the 2019 AFCON semi-final against Algeria and his dreams of playing in the English Premier League.

Onyekuru also talked about his encounter with Brazilian defender,  Dani Alves, how he felt when he received his first national team call-up as well as his plans for the future among others.

Below are the excerpts from his interview: 

His reaction when he received the first invitation to the Super Eagles?

I was very happy; I called my mom first. I called her because we used to watch the games (Eagles) together way back then. It has been a dream for me to play for the Eagles.

She named me after Henry Nwosu (former Nigerian star). As a young player playing at the National Stadium in Surulere (Lagos), we had that dream of playing for the senior team.

I was sleeping when the coach called me and spoke in French, asking me if I want to play for Nigeria.

Did he cry when he got the call-up?

No,  I was just so excited I could not eat. I was now thinking way back how we dreamt of playing for Nigeria.

I called my friends that we used to play together at the National Stadium (Lagos).

Experience so far with the Super Eagles?

It is a good experience. So far so good, it has been what I expected. The last AFCON we got third place.

We did our best in AFCON. To be among such players in the country is a good thing and I think we are on the right track.  We have a good coach, we have a young team, top guys, good players. We fight together and we play together. We put some back things behind and we push ahead.

There is this togetherness and everybody having the same goals in the team.

AFCON 2019 Experience?

I was ready to give everything to take the game to extra time but we were so unlucky. They did not want the game to go into extra time. Mahrez, a top player, just hit the target and that was it.

We had chances more than them but the coach had his own strategy. But we were there to give our 100 percent and do the best we have to do.

Football returning to normal with COVID-19?

Yes, it is a matter of time. I believe the spectators will soon be back to the pitch when the cure is found, playing without the fans is not the same. When you are playing in an empty stadium, there is no motivation.

On why he did not stay at Galatasaray till the end of the season after COVID-19 disruption?

Before I left Monaco in January, a new coach (Robert Moreno) wanted me to stay but I told him I needed to breathe because the last six months weren’t good . . .

And I wanted to play regular football and gain my confidence back. He came to watch me play against Fenerbache and ever since then we chat and he wanted me for the pre-season and when the loan deal expired, he told me to come back.

On leaving Everton and returning to England later?

Premier League has always been my dream and I hope to return someday.  I’m still on it. I have not given up on getting back to England.

On his experience with his first club Eupen in Belgium?

It was an amazing experience for me. I went there when they were in the second division, and arrived from Aspire Academy, very young and it wasn’t easy for me; it was difficult because I arrived in winter.

I was in the second team for six months and it got to one stage they were in a critical time, the year they almost went down to 3rd division, so the coach said ‘this young guy is doing well, why don’t we just give him a chance?’ I got my chance as a striker and started scoring.

For fans, it is normal to compare players. We have different techniques and abilities as well. For them to compare players, it is normal but inside the pitch, it is totally different.

Best football moments?

Our qualification for the 2018 World Cup.  The win against Cameroon at the 2019 AFCON. I did not play, I was on the bench but I saw the guys giving everything they had on the pitch. At a point, I thought we had lost the game.

Cameroon had a good coach and experienced players; so for the guys (Eagles), we gave our best and we had an experienced striker in Odion Ighalo.

Where he sees himself in the next two, three years for you?

It is a challenge for me as a young player to work more hard, to be in the team. It is very important. For now, it is just to work hard and be in the team and the rest is left for me to do on the field.

Defenders he had difficulty playing against?

Dani Alves. I was in Anderlecht then.  Playing against him was a good and tough game. We had a chat after the game and he told me I’m a good player and to keep it up.

Emmanuel Egobiambu

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