Thursday, May 10, 2018

Super Eagle Alexi Iwobi confident ahead of World Cup

No African nation has ever won the World Cup, but Nigeria's Alex Iwobi isn't letting that hold him back.
The 22-year-old Arsenal forward will play on football's biggest stage for the first time after helping the Super Eagles top their qualifying group for Russia 2018.

"The way we qualified in the group made us very confident," Iwobi tells CNN Sport.
"We've played against some big teams, some big countries, so we are very confident that we can go far."

Iwobi was twice on the scoresheet as Nigeria defeated Argentina 4-2 in a friendly last year. The two sides will meet again at the World Cup, which runs from June 14 to July 15, in a group which also contains Iceland and Croatia. 

Although the Super Eagles have never progressed past the last 16, Iwobi says winning the upcoming tournament is something he has discussed with his teammates.

"Of course, we've mentioned it and talked about it so many times in training, on the coach, in the hotel room," says Iwobi. 

"But we will take it step by step. Our coach always reminds us that we're not there yet. We need to prepare right. We've done well to get this far, so just be relaxed, be cool and wait for when the times comes.

"It's always been a dream to play in the biggest competition and there's no bigger competition than the World Cup to me."

Family affair
After representing England at youth level, Iwobi made his international debut with Nigeria in 2016. He has since gone on to be a regular fixture in a young and exciting Nigeria side which includes the likes of Leicester City trio Kelechi Iheanacho, Ahmed Musa and Wilfred Ndidi.

The nephew of former Fenerbah├že, PSG and Bolton Wanderers star Jay-Jay Okocha, Iwobi fondly remembers watching his uncle play in England.

"My family used to go up to Bolton and Hull to watch some matches," he says.

"My favorite [memory] is probably just watching him in training, just watching how he is. Everyone knows what he's like on the pitch but to actually see what he does in training when I was younger used to fascinate me ... he's always been a role model."

When Okocha, part of the Nigeria side that won Olympic gold in 1996, represented his country, the family would "just scream at the TV," Iwobi recalls.

Will they be making the same amount of noise when the Arsenal man takes to the field in his first World Cup?

"It depends where they are," he says. "If they're in the stadium, they'll be relaxed and cool. If they're at home, they'll be screaming and all the neighbors will hear."

Saying goodbye 

Immediate attention turns to the Premier League and Arsene Wenger's final days in charge of Arsenal.
Wenger handed Iwobi his first start for the Gunners aged just 18. His club form has been up and down since, but Iwobi says he's forever indebted to the man who gave him his big break. 

"I was very young, I was like a scholar," he recalls. "He was always saying to me to enjoy your football, express yourself, and if you make a mistake just continue and be positive.

"Everyone makes mistakes, it's how they deal with it and you just have to keep going. That's the best advice he's given me."

The focus now is on giving his mentor the best send-off possible after 22 years of service.
"The club without Arsene is going to be strange," says Iwobi. "He deserves the recognition that he should get. 

"We are going to do the best for him until the end of the season."

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