—Hoffeinheim Defender Akpoguma Eager To Beat Flying Eagles
Germany captain Kevin Akpoguma is eagerly looking forward to the round of 16 FIFA U-20 World Cup clash with Nigeria for two reasons.
For one, the defender wants his team to advance to the quarter-finals. The other reason is even more compelling: he will be up against his own people.
The Hoffenheim defender explains why Thursday’s match is special to him in an interview with FIFA.com: “I’m half-Nigerian as my father is Nigerian, and I’m glad to be able to say that.
“This match is already a special one for me; my parents are here and Thursday will be even more memorable for my Dad. Although he’ll have both his Germany and Nigeria flags at the ready for when the national anthems are played, in the end he’ll just be happy if his son gets to the next round.”
The 20-year-old revealed that when he was a very small child, his Nigerian father took him to the football pitch every day and helped him learn to have fun with a ball at his feet. “I’m very grateful to him,” he said, “but I also know that I’ll go into this match like I do every other. I was born and grew up in Germany so I consider myself to be German.”
Nevertheless, this powerful defender – capable of playing both as a centre-back and on the right side of a four-man defence – remains well-placed to identify with his team’s upcoming opponents. He has visited Nigeria twice and his grandparents live in Benin City, where Akpoguma fondly remembers everyone going to church on Sundays and then playing football together – something he was understandably pleased to be part of.
It is clear that the Hoffenheim youngster is proud of these experiences and has been shaped by them. “As a person I always want to get on well with everyone,” he said. “I can’t hate or envy anyone. I enjoy meeting everybody and I think that kind of mentality is typical for Nigeria.
“I always have fun and enjoy what I’m doing and the way I feel,” Akpoguma went on, pausing for a moment before grinning and adding: “As a footballer I also would say that I have my African roots to thank for my athleticism because I’m still fast despite being tall.”
Akpoguma has seen enough of the Flying Eagles at New Zealand 2015 to know their strengths and weaknesses.
“They rely on their attacking play and their one-on-one skills,” the 20-year-old explained. “They’re quick and have a insatiable urge to press forward. We’ve really got to watch our step as they’ve already shown that they score by putting two goals past Brazil.”
Nevertheless, Germany’s promising young defender – who counts the Flying Eagles alongside Brazil, Portugal, Serbia and his own team as title contenders – believes there is every reason to remain optimistic. “We don’t have to change much,” he told FIFA.com.
“If we can consistently remember our lines and stick to our plan, we’ll get good results. We’re getting into the business end of the tournament and we’re extremely fired up about what’s ahead. Nigeria are a great side, so now we can show what we’re really made of. We want to be in the last four and go all the way to Auckland. Having come here as European champions, that’s got to be our target.”
“Although we’re a laidback group, we can flip the switch when it matters. I think that’s our greatest characteristic: we’re ready whenever we need to be.
“That’s also why there’s always such a good atmosphere within the squad, which is vital. When you’re having fun with your football, you can play with greater ease and freedom. When the referee blows his whistle, we’re there!”