The Arsenal star also spares some thoughts for crocked Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, how Kanu influenced him and reveals which teams he believes will reach the semifinals of the tournament. Excerpts.
Alex, the 2018 World Cup kicks off in a few days time. How ready would you say the team is for the tournament?
We’re ready! As it gets closer the excitement is growing. However at the same time we’re still very focused and working extremely hard to make sure we’re well prepared and stand a strong chance of progressing well through the tournament.
The Eagles squad for the World Cup consists mainly of players that prosecuted the qualifiers. Would you say that will help team chemistry or you feel that the injection of new players will make the team better?
Whoever the coach includes in the team is right for the team. He’s the expert so my focus and that of my teammates is to come together and give it our all.
Talk us through the qualifiers briefly…quite naturally the Zambia games must be special for you, right?
Every of the game we played in the qualifiers came with its challenges as we played some very strong teams. However I’d have to say that those games against Zambia were really tough because they were young and ambitious. There was a lot at stake. I was very excited to have scored the goal that qualified Nigeria for the World Cup. That indeed was special.
Most of your Nigerian fans still debate which is your best position on the field; the central midfield or the wings because you are everywhere as seen in the friendlies for example. Where is Alex most dangerous from on the pitch?
Naturally I enjoy playing more centrally however I’ll play anywhere the coach wants me to play from. It’s an honour to play for my country in whatever position.
Different people have given their opinions about the chances of all four teams to qualify for the knock out stages from Group D. Which of Nigeria’s group opponents do you feel will be the most difficult to overcome?
Every match will be tough as all the teams have so much talent in their sides although the most obvious is Argentina but we can’t underestimate Iceland who did well in Euro 2016 and Croatia who always have a strong team in major tournaments.
You scored in the friendlies against Argentina and England. The Eagles won, drew and were defeated in those warm up matches against Poland, Serbia, Congo DR and Czech Republic…which do you thinks works in favour of a team: good results in the friendlies or not too good results; which of the scenarios make you more ambitious?
We have picked useful lessons from those friendlies. I can understand the fears of some Nigerians but we won’t let them down. We’ve been drawn against Argentina in quite a few times in tournaments so they’d know all about us and we’d know all about them. Despite this we do not underrate each other in any match. Any professional team knows that you go into each match with 100% focus regardless of how many times you have played them before.
Aside your uncle, Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha, who has been your biggest influence in Nigerian football?
It has to be (Nwankwo) Kanu. Kanu is one of the legends of Nigerian football. He was a very skillful player, and I enjoyed watching him on the pitch. He’s also an Arsenal legend.
Some stars of world football will not be in Russia maybe due to injuries. Which player (s) would you miss most not coming to Russia?
As a fellow African footballer it will be a shame not to see Mo Salah at the World Cup. I hope he makes a speedy recovery in time to play Egypt’s group matches. We want to see him play in Russia
I’d say the final third, making sure I get in the box and score goals. Just the way I scored against England.
How do you unwind when not playing/training?
Whenever I get any free time, I spend it with family and friends, relaxing and having a good time.
How is your spoken Igbo?
I’m not fluent in it but I definitely know a few words. I love the language and want to keep learning it. My dad is from Onitsha in Anambra state so I’m learning.
Finally your four teams to reach the World Cup semifinals? What’s your prediction and why?
It’s really hard to say to be honest. My focus is myself and teammates and doing well for our country, so I haven’t had time to think about the World Cup from a fan’s perspective. I think the traditional favourites like Germany, Brazil, and Spain will be there or thereabouts but my hope is we will be there too.
Thank you Alex and good luck in your World Cup experience
Thank you. You’re welcome.