Despite an illustrious international career that saw him feature in all categories of the Nigeria’s national teams, Benedict Akwuegbu has sensationally told NK Meida that he now regrets representing his fatherland in international football instead of Austria that also offered him a great opportunity.
Akwuegbu reiterates that after a rewarding 16-year career in the green-white-green colours of Nigeria, the nation doesn’t seem to appreciate him.
The former Grazer AK of Austria forward says that the thought of his unrecognised efforts by the hierarchy of the Nigeria Football Federation makes him regret choosing to serve the country after Austria tried in vain to convince him to switch international allegiance to the European nation.
“It’s so sad that after serving my fatherland, the football authority doesn’t seem to appreciate nor recognise my efforts,” Akwuegbu said in an exclusive interview with Completesports.com.
“It makes me feel the regret of playing for the Super Eagles. It makes me blame myself, and ask myself why I rejected Austria who were all over me then to play for their national team which I turned down in preference to Nigeria.
“If I knew I would be treated this way, perhaps I would have been much wiser. But then, that’s the prize I had to pay for being patriotic, holding tight to my love for the green, white and green colours of Nigeria.”
Akwuegbu added: “Till today, Austria still show me love, they still recognise me to the point that I now wonder how it would have been if I had adopted their nationality and represented them at the senior level.
“I’m just being honest to my conscience. I’m not against the leadership of the NFF. They are doing their best and obviously they cannot carry everyone along all together.
“But then, the field is large enough for them to increase the team [coaches] number. You have the Super Eagles, U-23 Olympic Eagles, Flying Eagles, U-17 Golden Eaglets. You also have the women teams – Super Falcons, Falconets and Flamingoes (U-17).
“You can appoint one ex-international to each of these teams. By so doing, nobody would complain. You have ex Eagles stars like Taribo West and others who gave their all to Nigeria but not recognised now nor engaged. It is not fair.”
Akwuegbu would go on to rate the Super Eagles class of 2000 on the same pedestal with their 1994 counterparts. He reckons that both squads represented the best ever assemblage of Super Eagles in terms of talents and team quality, but says that only luck denied the 2000 team the Africa Cup of Nations trophy after losing to the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon on penalty kicks on home soil.
“In 2000, we had a mixture of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games soccer gold medalists and also some of the 1994 Super Eagles Nations Cup winning team and World Cup debutants,” he said.
“That was a very strong team, like that of the 1994. It was only unfortunate that we didn’t win the AFCON that year because we lost on penalty kicks to Cameroon in the final. You know, penalty kicks is nobody’s game, it is a matter of luck because it is lottery, it can go either way.
“Cameroon at that time, was a very strong team, everyone knows that. But we put up a good fight. We had a solid and fantastic team then, I must say.”
Akwuegbu represented Nigeria at all levels. He first featured in the U17s – the Golden Eaglets. He represented the country at the FIFA U-17 World Cup finals staged in Scotland, in 1989, although he did not get the chance to play in any of the three group matches and the second round tie.
He represented also Nigeria at the U23 level, making the cut for the 1991 All Africa Games in Egypt before featuring at the 1993 U-20 CAF Championship in Mauritius with the Flying Eagles.