COLUMNIST: Akpan talks Nigeria debut with AFS
It has been some time since the last addition to my blog, the rigours of the start of a new season are to blame for that, with Championship and cup games coming thick and fast.
It has been a steady start to the season personally, unlike last season where I didn’t start any games until the start of the New Year!
This start led to a Nigeria international call up for the Cup of Nations qualification ties against Sudan which I was obviously delighted about.
The NFF had previously been in contact earlier this year, in May 2014, before the World Cup but nothing came to fruition. This left me pretty dejected at the end of last season but motivated to make the grade by the end of the year.
So, I am sitting in the barber shop two weeks ago and receive an official email from the NFF stating I am to be included in the upcoming squad. You can understand my joy!
The week before the camp we had a tough run of three games in the Championship: Wolves, Leeds away and a trip down the M4 to Brentford.
The week didn’t go to plan as we only managed to pick up two points from the three games which was disappointing and personally I picked up an injury in the draw against Leeds, forcing me to miss the Brentford clash.
I was as excited about the call-up, but with the injury I was always apprehensive and cautious as I was in a tricky position with some big decisions to make. Obviously, I wanted to train everyday and impress while on duty, but had to weigh up the risk of making the injury worse.
I flew out and headed for the camp in Abuja with a friend of mine, Sone Aluko of Hull City, who had already played for Nigeria and was named in the Super Eagles squad this time around. His familiarity with the set-up helped me massively and the squad of players were very welcoming.
The atmosphere in the camp was of determination to turn around the group standings which left us sitting with one point from two games. Sudan were the next opponents with ties away and home respectively.
The first game in Sudan didn’t go at all to plan.
Firstly, unable to train on the pitch before the game and the pitch being as hard as concrete we lost 1-0, putting our AFCON hopes into jeopardy. So the return leg became more important, crucial to our hopes of qualification as a win was the only result to keep the campaign alive.
I didn’t play in the first game, I was on the bench, and with the coach saying he’s making some changes I was hoping to be involved in the return fixture. I was named in the team and made my Nigeria International full debut against Sudan in the 3-1 win!
The game went well and with my Dad being out in Nigeria at the same time and witnessing my debut made the day even sweeter. Our AFCON qualifications have fresh hope but the two games remaining in the group have to be won so there is still a lot of work to be done.
Now I’m back in the UK and ready to get back into Championship action with Reading. After our bitterly disappointing loss to Derby, we have a tough game with Bournemouth coming up. We need to pick up points to improve our current league position and I’m raring to go with one international cap firmly stashed in my back pocket, the first, I hope, of many more.