Towering defender William Troost-Ekong turned out to be a hero
for Nigeria at the ongoing African Cup of Nations after scoring the winning
goal in Wednesday’s 2-1 win against South Africa in the quarter final, securing
a spot for his team amongst the best four teams of the tournament.
He was the third African player to commit one per cent of his salary to charity as part of Juan Mata’s Common Goal project.
Born to a Nigerian father and Dutch mother, he grew up near
Amsterdam but speaks, as a result of his schooling, with a discernible north
The Udinese player opens up for Ahram Online ahead of Nigeria’s AFCON semi final match against Algeria on Sunday.
Firstly, what is your impression about the AFCON organization and the atmosphere in Egypt?
It’s been very pleasant for us here in Egypt and we are enjoying being here a lot. It’s difficult to compare between this AFCON and others cause this is my first ever African tournament.
I think we’ve been lucky to have the pre-tournament training
camp at Ismailia and then our group stage games at Alexandria. Now we are in
Cairo, so I think all the places we have been to where very good and
comfortable. The pitches have been good, it’s only the hot weather which have
been difficult for us but we play at night so it’s been good.
And what is your opinion about the AFCON’s new summer timing?
I like that the AFCON is being played in the summer cause I don’t want to miss too many games with my club.
My club won’t be happy to leave them during the season for the AFCON, so I guess it’s easier like that. I don’t need to get into any trouble to play with the National team.
How do you assess your experience with the National team?
I had different experiences with the National team, I was at the World Cup Russia 2018 and I think there are a lot of different things between both competitions.
In the AFCON we have less international fans and its difficult for fans from West Africa to come and support us here. In the African football it’s more direct games. In the World Cup it’s faster and we have to adapt on the style of play.
You played for Holland at junior levels, but you made your debut for the Nigerian senior team in 2015 after an impressive season on loan at Dutch side FC Dordrecht. Why did you prefer Nigeria over Holland?
My choice to play for Nigeria’s first national team wasn’t a hard one cause at that time I didn’t have the chance to play for the Dutch national team.
I know I won’t make any
of my family proud playing for Netherlands, so I chose to be a part of the
Nigerian National team. Now I think I made the right decision cause I played
the Olympic games, the World Cup, and the AFCON and I had some great moments
playing for Nigeria.
What is the role of Nigeria’s captains and how do they motivate
the young players during the AFCON?
We have experienced players like John Obi Mikel and Ahmed Musa. I think for the next generation I’ll hopefully have the same impact on the less experienced players.
Now I’m so happy to be a part of the team, especially in my position as centre back. I try to talk a lot and motivate my teammates as much as I can.
We have some meetings with the team captains and I think Ahmed Musa said something great when he told us “If you win the AFCON, it can change your lives and it’ll open all the doors for you like what happened to us in 2013 when we won it.
Winning the AFCON is something you’ll tell your kids and grandkids about.”, this is the most motivation we’ve had.
What is your impression about the winning goal against South Africa?
Although it was the urgliest goal I’ve scored, scoring that goal
against Bafana Bafana was one of the highlights of my career. The importance of
the goal made it definitely the best goal I’ve scored in my career. I hope we
can do more in the semi final and final. It’s nice to score for a defender but
it’s not everything for me.
Nigeria wasn’t one of the favorites for winning the competition,
however they reached the semi final, how you do you assess the team’s progress?
Egypt were a clear favorite before the tournament, also Senegal is a fantastic team. Nobody had any expectations for Nigeria nor were we favorites, but we had the feeling that we wanted to come here and fight for the competition.
We weren’t thinking about playing the semi finals or final. We were focusing one game at a time and we slowly grew up in the tournament. I hope we pick up our good form in the right time.
How do you see the semi final match against Algeria?
So far, Algeria have been the best team in the AFCON, but they
think they are playing for 120 minutes against Cote D’Ivoire could affect them
in the next game as they have to travel from Suez to Cairo and they will only
train once before the semi final match.
So far, Algeria have been the best team in the AFCON, but their 120 minutes against Cote d’Ivoire right before travelling to their next game could be a problem for them.
They have to travel from Suez to Cairo, and then train once they arrive for the semi final match. They are in a good place mentally because they qualified for the semi final, but if the game goes to extra time we’ll have the advantage physically.
Algeria scored ten goals in the AFCON so far. What is Algeria’s main threat?
It’s difficult to choose only one threat from the Algerian team. I think they have world class players in all attacking positions. They also have players on the bench who can make differences.
I think it’ll be a difficult game and we need everyone to be in
their best shape on Sunday. We have to play compact and be collective, I think
when we are organized in the defense it’s quite difficult to get through.
It’s been reported that there will be more than 5,000 Algerian
fans at Cairo Stadium to support Algeria in their semi final clash against
Nigeria, what is your opinion?
I think it will be more pressure on Algeria, but I think that
we’ll also have supporters because last match the Egyptian fans cheered for us.
On the pitch we try to concentrate and zone everything out so to give our best.
Finally, What is your impression about your club-career at
Udinese in the Serie A?
I think it’s the best league I’ve played in my career. As a central defender I am learning a lot there. I’ve improved a lot since last season and I almost played every game. I am really happy at Udinese.
I am not in a rush to go anywhere since I’ve had a contract with Udinese for three years, but maybe after the AFCON if I receive a good opportunity to step up I’ll think about it.