Brighton & Hove Albion defender Leon Balogun says he feels relaxed and ready to be part of Nigeria’s 2019 African Cup of Nations campaign which kicks off on Saturday evening.
The Super Eagles begin their group stage with a game against Burundi, before further contests against Guinea and Madagascar follow, and the Albion centre half spoke about what he’d been doing since the end of the Premier League season since he's been away with the national side.
He said, “After the last game of the season with Brighton I went on a little sightseeing tour for a few days to New York, since then it’s just been training.
“I went back to Berlin and had some personal training, and then met up with the national squad on the 2nd June.
“Ever since that it’s been about getting ready – we had a match a few weeks ago against Zimbabwe which was very important for me because I hadn’t played at all since March with the national team.”
The biennial event takes place in Egypt this year, and Balogun spoke about how he’d been occupying himself away from the training field and with the rest of his Nigerian teammates.
“You always have your thoughts around the tournament – you train everyday with the team, but because you’re in a different country you don’t always get to do the things you’d normally do in your spare time,” he continued.
“It’s always a relaxed feeling with the Nigerian team though, it means it isn’t hard to switch off.
“I always have a few books with me, I’ve brought my iPad away, so I can watch Netflix and I talk to a lot of my friends too, so I always have ways to occupy my mind.”
There’s also the possibility that Balogun and fellow Seagulls defender Gaetan Bong could cross paths within the tournament, with the latter plying his trade for Cameroon, and the former FSV Mainz 05 defender looked ahead to potentially coming up against his fellow teammate during the knockout rounds of the AFCON.
“We might play one another out here! We faced Cameroon in the qualifiers for the World Cup of 2018 and they were in our group and we made it at their expense.
“We’ve met them quite a few times – if we face one another then they’ll have some extra motivation for sure.
“This tournament is one that I always watched whilst growing up – my main memories of it would probably be the physicality of the football, you’d see some very tough tackles and that’s what would stand out to me as a kid.”