Abia Warriors and Super Eagles defender, Austin Obaroakpo opens up to Completesportsnigeria.com's IZUCHUKWU OKOSI in this exclusive interview on the national team's campaign at the 2016 African Nations Championship in Rwanda.
The centre-back who is a fan of former Eagles captain Joseph Yobo insists luck was against Sunday Oliseh's team at 2016 CHAN. Obaroakpo also speaks ahead of the NPFL new season. Excerpts…
Austin before the African Nations Championship (CHAN), Nigeria were one of the favourites to win the tournament. How would you describe the team's preparations before the tournament?
Our preparations were very good. The players were in high spirits, looking forward to the competition. And then we played a couple of quality friendly matches in South Africa. The team had players who were doing extremely well for their clubs, so our preparations were very good.
If you should analyse briefly, the three games you guys played in Rwanda, how would you appraise the team's performances in those matches?
Our performance in Rwanda was good just that luck was not with us. We could have scored more than four goals against Niger. We knew Tunisia will be difficult and against Guinea, we tried so such to equalize but it never happened. The team had talented players but hard luck stopped us.
You players, up till now, have not been paid the allowances and so on. Was there any promise or agreement made between the team and Nigeria Football Federation to that effect?
Yes. The NFF assured that bonuses and allowances will be paid. We still hope it will come. Despite not winning the CHAN, the commitment was not lacking.
What do you think are the lessons your team learned from the African Nations Championship?
For me, the lessons are basically to defend better, take our chances while attacking and very importantly research about our opponents.
How would you describe the overall quality of the tournament, and organisation of the tournament by Rwanda?
The quality was high. It was a competition for players in their respective leagues. So we had the best players from the continent in Rwanda. From the goals scored, how we defended at the back and the support from the stands, the competition was a very interesting one.
Apart from football matters, was there any other thing that affected the team's performance?
I will not like to talk about other factors. All I will say is that we were just not lucky. If we played same teams that denied us passage to the knockout stages again, they can't be so sure of winning. We know Nigerians are still disappointed, but let's hope future outings will be better.
How do you see your chances in the Super Eagles team that consist of foreign based players as Nigerians look forward to the Nations Cup qualifier against Egypt in March?
It will not be easy breaking into the Super Eagles team that have the likes of Godfrey Oboabona, Kenneth Omeruo and Efe Ambrose, but I'm confident that I can do well if given the chance.The games against Egypt will not be easy but you never know, the coaches could still select the home-based players to play. Godfrey Oboabona and some other players had similar opportunities and they gave their all. We shall do same again.
Talking about defenders, which central defensive partnership in the history of the Super Eagles, in your opinion, is the strongest and which you hope to emulate with any of your national team defensive partner?
I will say Joseph Yobo and Taribo West were great for the Super Eagles. I only saw videos of Uche Okechukwu along with Uche Okafor, Chidi Nwanu and others.
Yobo is my hero and I want to play as many games as he did for Nigeria and the European clubs he played for, like Everton.
The league will commence soon. What are your targets in the new season?
To play very well and help my club, Abia Warriors win a continental ticket for next season. That's the major target.
What do you think are the chances of Nigeria's representatives; Enyimba, Warri Wolves, Akwa United and Nasarawa, in CAF club continental competitions this year?
I think that all the teams representing Nigeria in the continental will do very well because they have prepared very well. The Super 4 just ended. In fact, there have been a lot of preparations and recruitment in all the teams.
Are there new rules that will help improve the standard of the league that you want to suggest to the LMC, club managements and government?
We want a stop to night travels. It will be nice to fly to towns or cities where games will be played or at least the nearest locations. Ticket prices have been introduced which is nice. We are getting there. The league hopefully will be even better in the nearest future.
It is a pleasure speaking with you, Austin.
Same here, thank you.