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Why I’m RoboCop – Afolabi

Retired Super Eagles hard-as-nails defender and a veteran of the 2002 and 2010 World Cup Rabiu Afolabi opens up on his enjoying days and his hanging nickname, on this interview with ’TANA AIYEJINA

Not a lot has been heard from you again dwelling because you retired from soccer. What are you doing now?

I’m presently working as a youth growth coach on the Royal Antwerp Football Club Academy in Belgium.

The Super Eagles missed the final World Cup in Qatar and began the qualifiers for the 2026 version on a poor word, amassing simply three factors from their first 4 video games. What do you suppose are the challenges earlier than the present squad?

There have been minimal adjustments within the staff on the final Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast, apart from the absence of some essential gamers, who acquired injured earlier than the event began. The lack of William Troost-Ekong’s expertise, management and stability within the defence within the final two World Cup qualifiers was fairly evident. Furthermore, the attacking trio of Moses Simon, Ademola Lookman and Victor Osimhen was lacking. Simon’s velocity and menace, alongside along with his partnership with Lookman and Osimhen was additionally notably lacking whereas the staff attacked. Another situation was the sudden adjustments within the teaching employees. I firmly imagine that stability and a long-term imaginative and prescient are essential in soccer. Coaches require extra time and autonomy to ascertain and instill their type and philosophy on the staff, not solely at senior degree, but in addition on the youth settings. A synchronised central sample formation must be established.

Do you suppose the staff nonetheless has a practical probability of qualifying for the World Cup?

Everything is feasible, and I’m very optimistic. I keep in mind that we narrowly achieved qualification for the 2002 World Cup till the final sport towards Sudan on their dwelling floor. If my reminiscence serves me proper, we completely wanted to win with a margin of 4 objectives, and ultimately, Austin Okocha and Yakubu Aiyegbeni scored, and the sport ended with a 4-0 win for us. If we may do it then, I feel this current set can as effectively, with the correct mentality.

You represented Nigeria on the 2000 and 2010 World Cups. What recollections of those competitions do you continue to have?

It’s at all times an honour and delight to symbolize your nation. From a footballer’s perspective, you have been chosen as one of many ambassadors of a rustic of over 200 million individuals, the emotions have been large, and the childhood dream was fulfilled.

At the 2002 World Cup, you didn’t play any of the video games because the Eagles crashed out of the group stage. Were you disenchanted to not have made an look?

It was a blended feeling, being among the many best 23 chosen gamers, however as formidable as I used to be, I needed I may have performed the final group sport towards England as a result of each England and Nigeria have been already eradicated from the group; Argentina and Sweden topped the group.

You got here on as substitute within the Eagles 2-1 defeat to Greece on the group stage of the 2010 version. How did you are feeling shedding your first World Cup sport?

I got here on to fill in for Taye Taiwo after he was injured; approaching as a defender in the midst of a tense sport shouldn’t be that straightforward, and ultimately, we misplaced the sport within the final hole. However, it’s a part of the sport, you win some you lose some.

You performed all 90 minutes towards Korea within the closing Group B sport however the Eagles solely managed a 2-2 draw with the Asians and thus crashed out once more from the group stage. How did the staff take this specific consequence after the ultimate whistle?

Everybody felt so disenchanted after we couldn’t win the sport towards South Korea as a result of we have been advantageous. We had few scoring possibilities however we couldn’t handle to transform them into objectives, and this led to our elimination, however all in all, it’s a part of the sport.

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Stakeholders again dwelling blamed the Eagles elimination on poor preparations by the authorities. Do you agree?

Our preparation wasn’t so lengthy; it was quick however qualitative, identical to each different staff’s. There was good environment throughout the squad, however I feel that there wasn’t sufficient time for cohesion earlier than the kick-off of the event in South Africa.

You have been captain of the Flying Eagles on the 1999 U-20 World Cup. Nigeria have been favourites on dwelling soil however misplaced 3-1 within the quarter-finals to Mali. The followers on the Enugu stadium have been sad. Can you continue to recall the occasions that performed out after that  sport?

 It’s 26 years in the past now and I can’t actually recollect many incidents that occurred in Enugu on that individual day, however usually, enjoying on dwelling soil and because the host nation carries extra strain and the best exigency from the residents. We Nigerians are so patriotic on the subject of soccer, and I’m very pleased with that.

Why have been you nicknamed RoboCop?

I acquired the nickname primarily based on my type of play: inflexible and difficult on the opponents. So, my youth friends got here up with this humorous thought, which I couldn’t do something about however to embrace it.

Can you inform us the hardest opponent you performed towards?

I performed towards many powerful opponents, together with the highly effective Didier Drogba, however one specific participant that everyone appears to overlook is Haruna Dindane. He was Ivory Coast’s high striker earlier than the emergence of Didier Drogba. I performed many instances towards him within the Belgian league when he was enjoying for Anderlecht and naturally within the French league when he performed for RC Lens, he was a troublesome one to take care of.

Looking again now, what would you say have been your finest and worst moments as a footballer?

Generally, I attempted to leverage each second throughout my enjoying days, however it felt good to win the French Cup within the 12 months 2007 with FC Sochaux and some years later turned the Austrian champion with Red Bull Salzburg. My powerful second was the season 2000/01 once I arrived at Napoli. I couldn’t have a fast and clean transition to the brand new staff as a result of I got here on mortgage with the choice to purchase out, however in all, I had fun there.

You performed in Belgium, France, Italy and Denmark. Where did you get pleasure from your finest soccer?

I loved enjoying in all of the international locations you listed however I at all times single out Austria, it’s such a clear, peaceable, and well-organised nation. It wasn’t all that bell and roses, however with willpower, focus, and steadfastness, I used to be capable of climate by way of the obstacles.

Several African footballers have complained of racism in Europe. Were you a sufferer too?

Racism is a man-made downside that may’t be globally eradicated, however a robust sense of psychological energy and absolute focus helped me to outlive the chances.

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