Super Eagles defender, Leon Balogun, agrees that Nigeria’s football fans have the right to criticize the team if they performed badly, but he argues that his dedication to the team cannot be faulted.
The Glasgow Rangers’ defender was the butt of fans’ anger when his error led to Eagles’ unexpected 0-1 loss to Central African Republic in a Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifier last week. But the team bounced back three days later with a 2-0 win against the same team in Cameroun with Balogun scoring one of the goals.
Speaking on the criticism that trailed his performance in Lagos, Balogun, in an interview with ESPN, said: “You have seen me play for a few years now and you know that when I step onto the pitch, I always give 100 per cent and I am always passionate.
“Whether I am having a good performance or a bad performance, you can never actually criticise me for not trying. That is what I always give, that is the least I can do.”
The result was sorely needed; with Cape Verde claiming two victories over Liberia, anything other than a win for the Super Eagles in Cameroun would have put Nigeria’s hopes of getting through to the playoff phase of World Cup qualifying in serious peril.
Nigeria have missed just one edition since qualifying for their first World Cup in 1994 — the 2006 tournament in Germany — and many fans are still traumatised by that experience. Balogun told ESPN that the emotions of players were amplified.
“If it is important for you as a fan who is not on the pitch, but who is dreaming of seeing us play there, what do you think it means for us who are involved on the pitch,” Balogun said.
“You get the chance to play and it gets stolen away from you. So you can imagine your pain (as a fan) is the pain we feel, but our pain is your pain times a hundred, probably.
“You are probably still going to get opportunities to go to the World Cup but we are going to be sidelined and watch it on TV, and that’s what hurts. So we understand (what it means).”