Sadio Mane-inspired Senegal emerged as the champions of the Nations Cup, but it remains an unforgettable experience for a Nigerian debutant
Almeria star Umar Sadiq has expressed his delight at being a part of the Super Eagles squad that represented Nigeria at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in January.
Sadiq was one of three Nigerian players who had not made their international debut before making Nigeria’s 28-man list for the tournament. The others were Huesca’s Kelechi Nwakali and Enyimba’s John Noble.
Former Nigeria head coach Gernot Rohr had tried a couple of times to integrate Sadiq into the Super Eagles team but the 25-year-old did not honour any of the invitations, preferring to remain committed to Almeria’s promotion cause.
But there was no stopping Sadiq from appearing at the 33rd edition of the Afcon, with the former AS Roma starlet among the first to hit the Super Eagles camp in December.
The ex-Rangers man made his debut against Egypt and scored his first goal against Guinea-Bissau, helping Nigeria win each of their first three matches before suffering elimination at the hands of Tunisia.
While Sadiq was enjoying a memorable experience in Cameroon, Almeria were fumbling in Spain. Coach Joan ‘Rubi’ Ferrer’s men failed to win any of their four league games, picking up just one point from a possible 12.
Sadiq’s return has eased the troubles around Almeria, with the Nigerian star scoring once and winning two penalties to power his side to their first win of the year at the weekend.
Sadiq has expressed his loyalty to Almeria but he insists that love for fatherland trumps all other considerations.
Seaking at a press conference on Tuesday, as per Estadio Deportivo, the striker said: ”I also missed being here. At that time I needed to play with Almería. In the end, I love my country.
“It was a dream to be able to represent the national team. Right now I’m here and I hope to be able to give my best for our fans and team.”
The Super Eagles, chasing a fourth continental crown, suffered an early exit from the Afcon.
Sadiq would have loved to go back home with a medal, still there was no hiding his joy at fulfilling a life-long dream of wearing the green and white colours of Nigeria.
”Imagine… for Africans to represent our country in the Africa Cup is perhaps close to the most we can do in the world of football,” Sadiq continued.
“I have lived a dream that came true: first I debuted; I managed to score my first goal … we had very special moments that I felt. What I want is for it to last over time. We have to keep progressing and be able to continue defending my country’s shirt.”
A former youth international, Sadiq was a member of the Nigerian u-23 squad that won bronze medal at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.