Olympic Eagles captain, Success Makanjuola, shares his thoughts on Nigeria’s chances of qualifying for the Africa U-23 Nations Cup in Morocco at the expense of Tanzania, his three-year stint in Spain and coach Yusuf Salisu in this interview with JOHNNY EDWARD
How is the Olympics team ahead of Saturday’s U-23 AFCON qualifying second leg against Tanzania in Ibadan?
We’re very excited about the prospect of playing Tanzania at home. We are cautious but very confident of winning. We know it’s a very important game that will determine our fate of playing at the Olympics in 2024. We’ll try to be at our very best on Saturday and win. It’s no ordinary game, but we’ll just have to adapt as best and as quickly as we can. We know how important it is, so, we must make a good start to the game and win it by all means possible.
How excited were you when you got an invitation to the Olympic Eagles despite being off the scene for a while?
I was very excited I must say. I have always hoped for a chance to play for Nigeria after featuring at the U-20 World Cup in Poland and thank God I have it now, and I want to help the team qualify for the Africa U-23 Cup of Nations in Morocco, where Africa’s representatives at the men’s football tournament of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris will be selected.
How did you feel when you were named captain of the team?
I was very excited when I was named captain, but inside me I know the role comes with lots of responsibilities and I hope to lead the team to Paris. Half of the job is done; we just need to complete the task on Saturday.
Nigeria missed out from the Tokyo Olympics two years ago. How confident are you leading the team to Paris?
It will be one of my biggest achievements ever in my career to lead the team to the Olympics in Paris but to achieve that dream we must beat Tanzania first and I’m very confident of this. We played them once and we both know our strengths and we will be taking advantage of that. We’ve worked very hard and I believe we will be victorious in front of our home fans.
Were you under any level of pressure leading the team out in the first leg?
Of course, I was initially. I would be telling you a lie if I said I was not, but as the referee blew his whistle I knew I had a job to do, which was to make my country proud. I scored a goal but it was not enough. I hope to score more goals for the team going ahead.
The first leg ended 1-1 in Dar es Salaam, and you scored from the spot to hand the Olympic Eagles the lead. Were you disappointed with the eventual 1-1 result?
I’m not really disappointed as such because we didn’t lose in Dar es Salaam. We have another chance to finish off the job at home, as we have the advantage of playing at home. They had theirs and it ended in a draw. So, we must do everything right on Saturday to win and bring joy to the country. We lost a bit of focus towards the end of the game and we conceded that late goal. I want Nigerians to expect nothing but victory in the second leg on Saturday because we are playing at home, we know the fans are coming to watch the game and I promise we are going to come out victorious in the game.
Where do you think the team needs to improve on ahead of the second leg?
We just need to get the job done by killing off the game by scoring early goals. That will help us a lot and settle nerves. We must take our chances in the game and avoid conceding because we have an advantage of an away goal.
Nigeria have gone from winning the Olympic gold in 1996, silver in 2008 and bronze in 2016 to not qualifying for the last Olympics in Japan. What are your expectations for Paris 2024?
Nigeria made history when we won gold in 1996. We never achieved anything like that before and it’s only natural that you expect to keep on winning, after something like that. The way in which the team worked was absolutely amazing, but it’s very difficult now. What we’ve got to do now is go out and show it. We’ve not done that well in international competitions of late, but we must show that we can compete at the very highest level and to do that is to qualify first for the AFCON U-23 tournament. We must show that on Saturday that we’re up to the job and can compete well. There are little things that will determine how the game go for us and we have to work on them so we can qualify.
The arrival of Ibrahim Sunusi has further boosted the team’s attack, how confident are you of Nigeria’s chances?
His arrival will help the team no doubt, just as other members will bring lots of drive with them. Sunusi will offer the team valuable experience. We’ve got an amazing team. We’re all working for the team and we’re always trying to improve.
What is it like working under coach Salisu?
He is a very good coach who knows what he wants from his team and we the players want to repay that trust in him by winning on Saturday.
You started your career in Europe with Spanish side Leganes before joining CD Guadalajara a year later. What has been the experience?
It has been wonderful so far. I joined Leganes and I enjoyed my stay there but I had to leave to play regularly. I was not getting enough game time so I left. It was a difficult decision for me to leave the club, but I had to take the chance. Here I am now playing for Club Deportivo Diocesano and I hope to make the best opportunity and return to where I have always dreamt of playing.
And where is that?