Mainz’s Anthony Ujah is unlikely to be in Russia, but will be cheering his erstwhile teammates on. Photo: Armando Babani/EPA

JOHANNESBURG – Anthony Ujah is embracing the role he is likely to play for Nigeria in the World Cup, cheering for them in his house instead of travelling with them to Russia.

As a Nigeria cheer leader, Ujah is backing the Super Eagles to become the first African side to reach the semifinal of the global showpiece. The Mainz centre-forward is unlikely to be part of the Nigerian team due to his limited game time at club level and poor form. Ujah hasn’t played a full match for Mainz since re-joining them in January from Liaoning FC in China. 

In the 11 appearances the 27-year-old has made for the O-Fivers, he is yet to find the back of the net, which means in June he will be among the millions of Nigerians who will cheer the Super Eagles on while the lucky 23 carry the hopes of the most populous nation in Africa.

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“It’s going to be difficult for me to be a part of the World Cup squad,” Ujah said. “I know that very well because I haven’t played for the national team in a while and I haven’t played much for my club either. It’s understandable why I would struggle to break into the team.” 

“The good thing is that Nigeria is blessed with a lot of talent, especially in the offence. I have no worries that the team will do well and I will support them wherever I am.”

The Super Eagles will start their World Cup campaign against Croatia on June 16, then face Iceland on June 22 and Argentina four days later.

“We are in a difficult group so it’s hard to make any predictions of how far we will go. First of all we need to try and make it out of the group. I am very positive that we will go far once we do that and we could break the quarterfinals ceiling. We played well in the qualifiers.”

“We have a coach (Gernot Rohr) who is doing well. We have a team which he has been slowly putting together, not this chopping and changing that we’ve had in the past. It’s a good group of players, more like family than anything. With good preparations and good friendly matches Nigeria will do very well.”

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Ujah hopes to watch the World Cup while still a Bundesliga player by ensuring that Mainz aren’t relegated to the German second tier. Mainz are three points ahead of the play-off spot with two games, against Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen, remaining. The recent 3-0 win over Leipzig will give Ujah and company confidence in their fight for survival.

“It was a well-deserved win. We showed that we were ready for business from the first half. It was a very convincing win. There’s no doubt that we were more superior than our opponents. We were fighting for our lives so we had to put on such a performance. When you are fighting for your life, you take it like this is your last chance and you give it your all.”

“After we saw that Hamburger and Freiburg won, we had to win even though we were looking at teams above us, but those who are below us were catching up with us. All of that put together motivated us to win. We don’t want a situation where we have to get something from the last game to survive.”

Mainz will not look at Ujah for inspiration in those two games as the Nigerian forward has failed to live up to expectations. This has made his return to the Rhineland-Palatinate a tough one due to his struggles in front of goals.

“It’s frustrating to be outside and not be able to help the team,” Ujah said. “But I understand why I am in this situation. I came here late, in January and I have been supporting the team anyway that I can - emotionally and physically in training and the locker room while I wait for my chance.” 

“At the moment it is about dropping my ego and supporting the team in every way that I can.”



The Star

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