Kenneth Omeruo is preparing for his first appearance at a World Cup, and having already tasted success on the international stage with Nigeria, the defender is hungry for more…
For a player so young, Kenneth Omeruo is vastly experienced on the international stage, and the Nigerian is looking forward to testing himself against some of the best strikers in the World Cup when the competition begins this week.
Having been part of the Nigeria team which won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2013, the 20-year-old also played in last summer’s Confederations Cup in Brazil, and while that was a disappointing campaign for the Super Eagles, he believes they will be better off for it when they touch down in South America.
‘It was a great experience,’ Omeruo tells the official Chelsea website. ‘Despite some unrest in the cities at the time, people came out to support, even if Brazil weren’t playing. There were great atmospheres and good facilities.
‘I only had 10 minutes of the game against Spain because I was injured, but it wasn’t a bad performance even though we lost 3-0. It was individual mistakes, and with a bit of work we can be more competitive.’
Nigeria secured their return to Brazil for the imminent World Cup courtesy of a play-off win against Ethiopia, and Omeruo believes the biggest stage in football is where they belong. The Africa Cup of Nations success is understandably the high point so far of a career in its infancy. His call-up to the squad for that tournament came late on and somewhat unexpectedly, but he deserves credit for the manner in which he took the opportunity.
‘Even for me it was a surprise,’ he remembers about his selection. ‘I was looking forward to going away with the Under-23s but instead got called up to the senior team, and it was a pleasure. I made use of the opportunity when I had it.
‘After the Nations Cup we drew at home against Kenya in a World Cup qualifier, so knew we had to go away and get a win in Kenya, which sent us to the play-offs and we won both legs of that. It wasn’t easy but as African champions we knew we had to be at the World Cup.’
For the World Cup Nigeria have been drawn alongside one of the tournament favourites, Argentina, with Bosnia and Iran making up a testing group.
‘It’s the first thing people say to me when they hear who we face. Aguero and Messi will be tough opponents, so we have to stay compact and strong as a team. But it is a group we can get through from, and we will look to be playing in the knockout stages.’
At club level, following a previous loan spell at ADO Den Haag in Holland, Omeruo spent the second half of the 2013/14 season at Middlesbrough, his first real taste of English football and an experience he looks back on with fondness.
‘It was great,’ he says. ‘I didn’t expect it to turn out as good as it was so I am really happy with how it went. I do feel at home in English football. Middlesbrough had a wonderful team, good management and strong facilities, so I blended well.
‘The football was a bit physical which I had to learn as quickly as possible if I wanted to achieve anything before the World Cup, and I am very happy with everything.’