CAIRO – The injury to Shehu Abdullahi in Nigeria’s first Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) match against Burundi after just 20 minutes offered Chidozie Awaziem a rare opportunity to shine.
The 22-year-old currently playing in the Turkish top tier with Çaykur Rizespor on loan from FC Porto, naturally a right back was thrown into the deep end to hold forte at right back.
Abdullahi failed to recover in time and Awaziem has been called upon to continue in the role, and hasn’t put a foot wrong, playing in every game as Nigeria weaved through to the semifinals of the of the competition in Egypt.
And the defender has admitted he feels comfortable playing in the role ahead of his side’s semi against Algeria in Cairo on Sunday.
“I don’t think it has been hard for me because as a player you have to be ready when called upon. I was happy to get some playing time. I am here to serve the nation and in whichever capacity or position the coach wants me to be in, I am ready,” Awaziem said.
The defender was just 16-years-old when Nigeria last won the title and he is playing in his first Afcon having thrived in his loan spell in Turkey, enough to convince head coach Gernot Rohr to hand him a call up to the national team.
The five Afcon games he has played have pushed his number of caps to 11 and the best thing for him, is to end this memorable year with a winner’s medal around his neck.
“We feel so wonderful to be in the semis. We fought hard for this and everyone gave there all. We were not in the last two Afcons and winning this will be our best way to pay Nigerians back for missing...And the secret to the team’s success so far – teamwork he said.
“Everyone knows what is required of him and we have a goal which we have to keep working on and fighting for in every game. We go step by step and we hope to be in the final. We have been together for long as a team and we know ourselves.”
Awaziem, a descendant of Enugu State in South Eastern Nigeria, meanwhile, hopes his performances at Afcon will help him earn more caps and represent his country more.
His first involvement with the Super Eagles was in 2016 when he was called up for friendly games against Mali and Luxembourg at the age of 19. He made his debut in June 2017 in a 3-0 friendly win over Togo.
He was part of Rohr's 23-man squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but was an unused substitute.
African News Agency (ANA)