Home Eagles midfielder, Bartholomew Ibenegbu speaks about the Nigerian team's journey so far at the 2016 CHAN: his personal experiences, the squad's inspiration and challenges ahead in the tournament, just as they get set to play Tunisia in their second Group C match. Interview By David Meshioye & Adeboye Amosu in Kigali:
How would you describe your performance in the tournament so far with just one game in the bag?
The opening game was an excellent one for me even though I was replaced in the second half. I was replaced by Usman Mohammed who by all standard gave a good account of himself. The tournament has been a good one for me, I am determined to justify coach Sunday Oliseh’s belief in me as long as the tournament progresses.
Would you say this tournament has provided the right platform for you and your teammates to once again prove that the local league can still boast of good quality players?
You can say that again! We have always advocated for better treatment and respect for the league because that is where Nigerian football begins. It is important we give the players that sense of belonging and our football will continue to move in the right direction. This CHAN tournament is a good idea from CAF and here in Kigali we have been able to show the world that Nigerian football is not only played abroad but at home as well.
Nigeria won 4-1 against Niger, but critics back home feel Super Eagles are yet to meet their match in the tournament; many feel you played against a lower opposition.
I don’t think any team can be run over in this tournament just like that. For every team that made it to the tournament, they all deserve some respect. Yeah, we played against Niger Republic,,but again, they did qualify to get here. All that matter is for us to win the game which we did. I strongly believe winning that game has put us on a good start in this tournament. Had we lost to Niger Republic, I know what Nigerians would have felt, but thank God we won.
The Tunisians were forced to a 2-2 draw by Guinea and many are of the opinion that Super Eagles’ quality will be tested against The Carthage Eagles of Tunisia on Friday. Do you see that clash as your stiffest test?
Yes, the north Africans are top quality any day you play them, but I believe we are ready not just for Tunisia, but every team because our aim here is to win the trophy. I know the Tunisians will be aiming for win but we will be ready for their tricks which we all know they are known for. Our team is focused and we will continue to work hard until our aim is achieved, by the special grace of God.
But do you really think Tunisia pose a threat to Nigeria’s quest to lead the Group C?
Honestly, no team is a pushover in this tournament. A lot of people think we are just going to run over the Nigerien team, but as you saw, they gave a good account of themselves, making the game tougher for us, but we eventually won 4-1 due to lots of hardwork. I believe the Tunisians are good oppositions too because their league has been on the rise over the years and their players are good too. I feel they will give us a good fight, but we should win at the end of the day.
How well has coach Sunday Oliseh improved your game so far?
I think coach Sunday Oliseh is a father to all of us in the team and he has always told us how much players' welfare meant to him. He has helped me in so many aspects of my game, by telling me what to and what to avoid if I really want to make appreciable progress in the game. There is no complex problem in the team and everyone of believe we can represent this country well. We respect our overseas based stars, but we all learn from one another now. I think Nigerian football is on the right path with Oliseh at the coach of the national team.
Nigeria won Bronze in South Africa under coach Stephen Keshi. The coach Oliseh''s side is considered a better side by soccer cynics. Would you like to draw any comparison between the two teams?
Well, I would not want to compare both teams because every manager has his own system and methods. My attention is on this team and like I did said earlier, we are looking forward to every match and we will take them as they come. I believe Tunisia will bite the dust just like the Nigeriens. They cannot stop us. We are ready to hit the quarter-finals after our second game. We want to pick the three maximum points against Tunisia so that we don’t put ourselves under unnecessary pressure before our last game.
In your own judgment, how far do you think this team can go?
Before we came here, we set a target for ourselves and that was to win the tournament. We are not saying it’s going to be a do or die affair, but we are here to take CHAN trophy home, God willing. In achieving that, we have resolved to take every game as they come and only by doing that we can make our dream come true.
Talking about players’ welfare, what do you think can be done to checkmate the rising tide of non-payment of players’ wages and allowances by most of the Nigerian clubs?
That is one area I would like the LMC to look into. The players are the main actors of the game and once they are not happy you won’t get the best from them. The LMC should ensure players are paid their wages so that the game can move forward.