Brighton defender, Leon Balogun, is looking forward to featuring at the 2019 Africa Cup Of Nations in Egypt with the Super Eagles.
The three-time AFCON winners qualified for the tournament with a game to spare in the qualifiers after missing out on qualification in the last two editions in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Balogun, 30, believes that the Eagles have a responsibility beyond football to do Nigeria proud in Egypt.
“We’ve qualified for this summer’s African Cup of Nations, which is the most important thing because we failed to qualify for the previous two tournaments – having been winners in 2013,” Balogun told Brighton’s official website.
“There would have been an outrage if we hadn’t qualified again; we are a nation of 200 million people and although we have our problems, football brings everyone together and so we have a responsibility beyond football,” he added.
Balogun is poised to start for Nigeria in Saturday’s friendly against Zimbabwe at the Stephen Keshi stadium.
Eagles coach Gernot Rohr told the media in Asaba that he wants to give players short of domestic minutes a much-needed run-out and Balogun struggled for opportunities with the Seagulls last term.
Balogun last featured in an FA Cup replay at West Brom on February 6, when his blunder gifted the Baggies a goal.
Rohr said, “I want to see a lot of players who are not playing so much, give them the opportunity to play. It can be for some defenders like Balogun, he is fit but he didn’t play so much, so we want to see him play on Saturday.”
Balogun also admitted that it was not easy for him, being on the bench with Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk the first choice pair in central defence.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s never easy, but as I said, you always have to be ready to play. All I can do is show my levels in training on a consistent basis, which I think I have done, and what that has done is also force those two to up their games as well – that’s been my way of contributing to the team even when I’m not playing.
“That’s been positive because, for me, the team always comes first. It’s not nice to be on the bench, but I’m experienced enough to deal with that and there are other areas where you can help, maybe as a mentor to the younger players and to encourage the whole team in the dressing room.”