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One of the surest bets for the Super Eagles 23-man team to Russia in June [as long as he is fit] is Leon Balogun, who plays for Mainz in the German Bundesliga.

The defender will mark his 30th birthday during the World Cup and it is definitely better late than never.

Speaking to former Liverpool forward, Stan Collymore, at his club’s training ground at Bruchweg, Balogun admitted to Collymore that the ‘big excitement’ of playing in his first World Cup “is still to come”.

“On the day of the World Cup draws, I was at training,” but his teammates [at Mainz] asked if he wanted to know the countries Nigeria was grouped with. When the answer came and said Argentina, Balogun replied, “Again?”

“I think it is every World Cup. It is a big challenge but it is also a big opportunity because no one would have us on their list and say they will be eliminated.”

He added that the biggest goal for the team is to “leave the group stage”.

Collymore then made this assertion – “When Africa is going to win the World Cup, it is going to be Nigeria.”

Why does he believe this? “Huge amount of players, a huge amount of players that have always played in Europe and being successful. Kanu, Jay-Jay Okocha,” Collymore mentioned some of the more successful Nigerian exports to Europe.

But he then threw in a question, “Do you feel that the team spirit now is strong enough to carry the expectation of the Nigerian nation?”

Balogun replied: “We know Nigerian fans have huge expectations but truly if you asked them what they would do if Nigeria actually went and won the World Cup?

“The reply would be ‘that is beyond the expectation.” Balogun then assured that one thing the players want to do is make Nigerians proud. Truly, that is the minimum the fans are asking for from the team coached by Gernot Rohr.

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